Survey: Chesapeake Bay blue crab population remains low

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said the blue crab population remains at low levels.

According to the state’s 2014 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, the abundance of spawning-age females was 69 million, declining just below the minimum safe level of 70 million.

While the crabbing harvest remained at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year, and juvenile crabs increased 78 percent from 2013's record low, the total abundance of crabs - which include juveniles, and adult males and females ─ has returned to pre-2008 levels of approximately 300 million.

According to a state DNR news release, the long cold winter appears to be one cause of the low abundance level. Low water temperatures resulted in one of the worst cold-kill events since the start of the survey in 1990, causing the death of an estimated 28 percent of adult crabs in Maryland.

"Since crab harvests remained at safe levels, our scientists believe an array of environmental factors impacted Blue Crab abundance," said DNR Secretary Joe Gill in a statement.  "With the number of spawning age crabs low, and juveniles at pre-2008 levels for two years running, we will be working with our partners and stakeholders to develop adaptive management strategies that will protect the next generation of spawners."

Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission remain committed to collaborating on a two-pronged management approach.  The first action will be to protect the adult females that will be spawning this summer.   The second will be designed to protect the current population of juvenile females through next spring, to build up the female population that will spawn in 2015.  The three jurisdictions will be consulting further with scientists and stakeholders to identify the specific actions to be implemented.

DNR and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science have conducted the primary assessment of the Bay's Blue Crab population annually since 1990. The survey employs crab dredges to sample Blue Crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.

Since 2011, Governor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly have passed legislation that increased enforcement authority and penalties for egregious violations of striped bass, oyster and blue crab regulations and important measures 

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