BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A sudden plunge in the blue crab population in the bay means belt-tightening for watermen.

Alex DeMetrick reports it also means fewer crabs making it to market.

How fat or lean a crab harvest is is predicted each year by a survey done throughout the Chesapeake. Especially important are the baby, or juvenile crabs, which will grow to market size by summer. But this year…

“The crab population dropped substantially, by more than 50%, and what that means is there are fewer crabs to fish on,” said Lynn Fegley, DNR Fisheries.

In 2012, the survey found a population of 765 million, but that number dropped to 300 million this year. The biggest decline was in juveniles, from 581 million to 111 million.

“And it’s the abundance of those baby crabs that really drives the population each year,” Fegley said.

That’s forced Maryland and Virginia to impose new restrictions on catching female crabs. Rules already limit that catch but an additional 10% reduction is now in play.

“Science says we need a reduction. That’s what we have to go by. The problem I have with it is whether the science is good enough,” said waterman Bob Evans.

Evans is a waterman who thinks too much emphasis is placed on the juvenile count.

“And those tiny crabs, most of those get eat up by predators before they grow anyway, so you can’t ever go by how many little crabs you have,” Evans said.

That reduced female harvest will hit hardest in late summer and fall, when females are the primary catch for many watermen—money they won’t be hauling in.

The restrictions on females is to keep as many as possible in the bay to spawn next year’s young.


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