Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– As comebacks go, it’s off the charts. Researchers are finding a population explosion of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
Alex DeMetrick has some very promising numbers.
A bushel was steamed up as a prop, but what was really hot was the announcement that went with it.
“I am now glad to report the population of the blue crab is now at a 19-year high,” exclaimed Gov. Martin O’Malley.
According to this year’s blue crab survey, 764 million crabs spent winter in the Bay– a 66 percent increase from last year. And juveniles reached a record high of almost 600 million, triple last year’s 207 million.
“Having that many crabs in the Bay is just great news, because these are the crabs that are going to support the fishery late this summer and in the fall,” said Lynn Fegley of the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.
Every winter, Maryland and Virginia biologists dredge the Bay’s bottom, where crabs burrow into the mud. And while the survey is not a census, it has proven a useful tool.
In 2008, it found crab numbers were plunging and the states put harvest restrictions on females. Now with numbers climbing, watermen hope those restrictions will ease.
“As long as they keep the restrictions on us, we’re not going to see a difference. We’re hampered by the restrictions,” Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said.
But higher numbers won’t mean fewer restrictions this year, although there could be some wiggle room.
“Looking at the same harvest level, but working with watermen to try to find opportunities to give them some increased flexibility,” Tom O’Connell of the DNR Fisheries Service said.
Especially in late fall, when crabs go mostly to packing houses. The ban on catching females then, might ease by a week or so. It’s females that control the future.
“They’re going to be responsible for creating the next generation, and there’s a lot of them,” Fegley said.
And there’ll be plenty for Maryland tables this summer.
The last time the blue crab population was this healthy was 1993.