Blue crabs not being overfished amid recent population growth, scientists say

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After examining recent harvest figures and the gains in the Chesapeake Bay’s crab population announced this spring, scientists arrived at a positive conclusion: Crabbers weren’t overdoing it last year.

The newly released Blue Crab Advisory Report said there’s no need for Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to impose added restrictions—such as limits on sizes and numbers of crabs for harvests, or closing up the season early—since data show the crab population isn’t overfished.

In May, Maryland and Virginia scientists announced a 60 percent increase in the bay’s blue crab numbers, from 371 million to 594 million over the course of a year. But scientists also took a look at how many crabs were being harvested during crabbing season, which in Maryland runs from April through mid-December.

Data show 23 percent of adult female crabs were removed for fishing, which falls below the target mark of 25.5 percent and well below the overfishing threshold of 34 percent. They found a smaller share of crabs died this past winter compared to a year before, thanks to warmer temperatures.

The analysis in today’s announced findings, approved by scientists at a meeting in Cambridge last week, basically “makes sure that we’re being responsible” with crabbing levels, said Kim Couranz, spokeswoman for the NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay office.

The new report nonetheless recommends jurisdictions keep “a risk-averse approach” on crabbing restrictions this year, so as to keep the positive results coming.

But the moral of the story: pick away guilt-free this summer. As Sean Corson, acting director of the NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay office, said in a statement, “Consumers can enjoy their Chesapeake Bay crab feasts knowing blue crabs are responsibly managed.”

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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