Top Issues of 2023: Blue Crabs and the Bay

With the 2022 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly.

There is nothing more central to Maryland, physically, financially, culturally, as the Chesapeake Bay. While progress has been made since the mid-1980s are restoring the bay, the current trajectory of progress has somewhat leveled off. More work needs to be done both within the public and private sector if the 2025 goals are to be hit.

According to the issue papers,

Achieving the Goal: Progress and What Lies Ahead Maryland’s Phase III WIP anticipates that the State will achieve (and possibly exceed) statewide nutrient and sediment pollution reduction goals by calendar 2025, but concerns have been raised regarding (1) whether the Phase III WIP includes sufficient detail regarding the actions 172 Department of Legislative Services that must be taken to achieve pollution reduction goals; (2) the feasibility of the State’s continued reliance on the wastewater sector to meet pollution reduction goals when other sectors fall short; and (3) whether adequate resources to implement necessary agricultural practices are available. In addition, Maryland’s Phase III WIP acknowledges that pollution loading resulting from climate change, population growth, and the Conowingo Dam may impact the achievement and sustainability of restoration beyond calendar 2025. Most recently, in its October 2022 evaluation of Maryland’s 2020-2021 completed and 2022-2023 projected milestones, EPA notes that Maryland did not achieve its 2021 targets for nitrogen and phosphorus but did achieve its target for sediment. The evaluation specifically flags the State’s handling of expired municipal storm sewer system permits and implementation of agricultural best management practices as areas for improvement. Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia also fell short on their projected milestones, prompting the EPA Administrator to acknowledge that the plan and timeline for meeting remaining pollution reductions will likely need to be revised.

Zooming in a bit, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most notable residents is also in trouble, the Blue Crab. Blue Crabs are one of the most iconic symbols of Maryland life, yet conditions due to pollution and climate change are forcing this crustacean to find new places to call home. Just this month Conduit Street reported how Blue Crab populations are dwindling in the Chesapeake and are now found as far north as Maine. Followers of Annapolis can expect Maryland’s leaders to introduce legislation aimed creating and improving programs to help  boost crab populations.

According to the issue papers,

While the number of spawning age female crabs has been above the minimum management threshold of 72.5 million crabs for eight consecutive years, the population dropped from 158 million in 2021 to 97 million in 2022, significantly lower than the target of 196 million. Results also showed the adult male crab population to be 28 million, which is the lowest number on record. Although recruitment – the number of juvenile crabs – increased from 86 million in 2021 to 100 million in 2022, this is the third consecutive year of below average recruitment. The blue crab population is naturally variable and impacted by multiple factors, including habitat availability, bay and oceanic conditions, disease, and predation, including by red drum and invasive blue catfish.

Read the full DLS issue paper.