DNR reports blue crab’s ‘stock and population as a whole remain healthy’

ANNAPOLIS — The Chesapeake Bay blue crab winter dredge survey, a cooperative effort between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, estimates 317 million blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay in 2024.

This compares to 323 million crabs last year,  according to a May 22 post on the DNR’s website.

The number of spawning age female crabs decreased from 152 million crabs in 2023 to 133 million crabs in 2024, but is still well above the management threshold of 72.5 million crabs.

The threshold indicates whether the female crab population is being overfished or not.

Adult male crabs also experienced a slight decrease from 55 million crabs in 2023 to 46 million crabs in 2024.

The number of juvenile crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has been below average for the past four years, but rose to 138 million in 2024.

Blue crab reproduction is naturally variable and influenced by many factors such as oceanic conditions, available nursery habitat, predation and other environmental impacts.

“An increase in juvenile recruitment is certainly welcome news, and the stock and population as a whole remain healthy,” Maryland DNR Fishing and Boating Services Director Lynn Fegley said in this week’s post on the DNR website. “However the continued relatively low recruitment numbers warrant a closer look at our approach moving forward.”

The consecutive years of low juvenile abundance prompted the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee to plan a new stock assessment for blue crabs, which will begin this summer.

The new assessment will allow fishery managers to take an in-depth look at their understanding of the ecology of this species, how it is modeled, and whether the reference points used for management should be revised.

Mandy Bromilow, DNR’s blue crab program manager, noted there has not been an overall reexamination of the data that contributed to the 2011 stock assessment on blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We haven’t had a real evaluation of the assumptions we have in the model, and there are new analytical methods that could be applied to the data,” she said.

The stock assessment is set to be completed and published in March 2026.

In the meantime, the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee will review the survey results for this year and provide scientific advice for management. Then, the DNR will begin discussions with the state’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee to provide guidance concerning management options for 2024 that promotes the health and sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population and its fisheries.

The winter dredge survey has been conducted cooperatively by Maryland and Virginia since 1990.

The results are reviewed annually in an effort to have consistent management efforts across the jurisdictions.

Throughout the survey, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.

Detailed results are on the DNR website,   https://dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/blue-crab/dredge.aspx.

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