ANNAPOLIS — The recently released blue crab survey shows "a healthy number" of mature female crabs and a slightly above average population of adult males in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR announced the results of the 2020 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey on May 20. The annual survey, conducted with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, estimates the number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Maryland and Virginia, along with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, strive to conserve more than 70 million adult female crabs annually to ensure enough young crabs can be produced to sustain the population, which has now been achieved for the sixth consecutive year. This year’s survey estimates 141 million adult female crabs were conserved, which is above the long-term average of 126 million.
Additionally, the results showed there were 79 million adult male crabs, just above the long-term average of 77 million and similar to the estimate from 2019. The total number of blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay in 2020 was 405 million crabs, a near-average abundance for the 30 years of survey results.
Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert Brown said the number of mature female crabs is "one of the best signs" for a healthy blue crab population. Brown said the increase in mature males showed the population is "moving in the correct direction."
“Although the blue crab numbers in the Bay are down from last year, overall they continue to remain well above the numbers seen in the late 1990s and mid-2000s that raised such concern," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore.
"This year’s results indicate that the blue crab fisheries management changes adopted in 2008, which continue to guide decisions, have again resulted in a more abundant and stable trend for the Bay’s blue crab population," Moore said.
The weather has impacted the supply, and the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the demand for blue crabs and other Chesapeake Bay area seafood products, according to Brown, who said that products like razor clams, which are used as bait for blue crabs, as well as fishing and oyster aquaculture have suffered recent declines.
“Unfortunately for many watermen, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, seafood sales have fallen dramatically," Moore said. "Healthy fisheries, especially the iconic blue crab, are an important part of connecting with the Chesapeake Bay. A restored Bay will only strengthen that connection. Now is a great time to support local watermen and their communities through curbside and dockside sales and deliveries from seafood vendors.”
"Hopefully, we'll have a good season," said Brown. "People just want to get back to work."