Just as Marylanders prepare to steam them up and eat them by the bushel, blue crabs are on the rise in the Chesapeake Bay, according to an annual population report.
Scientists from Maryland and Virginia estimate there are 594 million crabs in the estuary, up from 371 million when they conducted a count last year.
The new figures are “a sign that blue crab management has been successful at allowing more crabs to reach the spawning stock,” according to an announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.
As recently as 2013 and 2014, the overall population hovered around 300 million crabs.
Both the female and juvenile population climbed. The former is up 29 percent, to 190 million, and the latter nearly doubled, from 167 million last year to 324 million.
“The female abundance of blue crabs is close to our target and the juvenile population is above average,” Natural Resources Fisheries Monitoring and Assessment Director Michael Luisi said in a statement. “We expect a lot of variability in the blue crab population, and taking a conservative approach offers stability for the fisheries in the face of swings in abundance.”
As The Sun noted around this time last year, a particularly harsh winter killed off a third of the adult crab population. Crabbers harvested 55 million pounds of the crustaceans in 2018, only a slight increase from the 54 million caught the year before.
The annual survey of the blue crab population is conducted in the winter, when biologists dredge in 1,500 different spots to measure and record crabs that are then released.