Officials Prepare For Winter Crab Survey

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s the count that sets the limits and, down the road, what you’ll be paying for that summer crab feed.

Alex DeMetrick reports the winter crab survey is a numbers game and a balancing act.

It takes cold weather to count crabs in the Chesapeake.  Winter’s the time they hunker down in the mud and aren’t moving around, unless a dredge finds them.

“This is the tool that two states, Virginia and Maryland, use to manage the crab population,” said DNR biologist Chris Walstrum.

From December through March, crabs are hand-picked from the bay’s debris.  They come in all sizes, those old enough to spawn this summer and those new to the Chesapeake, who will grow to market size by Labor Day.

Sex, size and numbers are collected at 1,500 sites up and down the bay.

“At the end of the season, all those numbers get sent to a statistician and they work them up and create a population estimate,” said Joe Williams, DNR biologist.

That year, abundance was estimated at 393 million crabs.  Last year, it jumped to 658 million. The low was 2007, at 249 million, which triggered stricter fishing rules.

“I think it’s pretty accurate.  I mean, nothing’s 100 percent accurate, but when they do the survey, they’ve got a pretty good idea how many crabs are in the bay,” said waterman Roger Morris.

The more that are counted, the more can be caught.  If the numbers drop, so will the catch, impacting watermen right up to what you’ll pay this season.

The Department of Natural Resources is crediting the survey and the changes in rules it creates with reversing a population crash of blue crabs in the bay.

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