Home Fisheries Hot Topics 2011 Blue Crab Stock Assessment Released
2011 Blue Crab Stock Assessment Released

A new scientific report confirms that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are becoming more abundant and provides important new data for state officials to consider in continuing to fully rebuild this iconic regional stock.

The 2011 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Stock Assessment indicates that adult blue crab populations have increased since the last complete stock assessment in 2005.

According to the report, blue crab management measures, which Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission implemented in 2008 to reduce female crab harvest by 34%, likely led to an increase in abundance of adult female crabs, in turn resulting in a higher overall crab population and having a positive contribution toward the long-term goal of a fully rebuilt stock.

The new assessment uses a sex-specific model and recommends working toward achieving a sustainable target population of 215 million female crabs and a total of 415 million adult crabs in the Bay.

The assessment’s new modeling approach found that in 2009, the blue crab stock in Chesapeake Bay was not experiencing overfishing (too much fishing pressure); in fact, the crab harvest was below the threshold set to prevent overharvesting. Also, the blue crab population was not low enough to be considered overfished, with the abundance in 2009 above the interim target set by fisheries managers. The assessment notes the stock experienced overfishing from 1998-2004 and the population was considered overfished from 2001-2003.

“After a long period of decline, the blue crab population is beginning to rebound,” noted Peyton Robertson, director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team. “This new assessment will serve as a blueprint for the next stage of the rebuilding effort, moving us closer to a healthy, sustainable population.”

The blue crab fishery saw roughly $70 million in commercial dockside landings in 2009 and 2008. The report will help managers better understand the dynamic between blue crab harvest rates and population numbers, and is the scientific foundation for good management decisions.

The 2011 Blue Crab Stock Assessment also provides valuable information for NOAA to meet key commitments outlined in its response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, including working with the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee to establish a new blue crab population target by 2012, and incorporating the target into interstate agreements to ensure sustainable blue crab populations over the long term.

The report was funded by the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, with support from the state of Maryland and Commonwealth of Virginia, and developed by a collaboration of Bay scientists, led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. It underwent an international peer review by the Center for Independent Experts.

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