By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Prepare to spend more green for blue crabs. Numbers are out on the annual survey of crabs in the bay, and they are not great.

Alex DeMetrick explains what the survey is telling scientists and watermen.

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The numbers, which have been a solid predictor for years, are pointing to another drop in the crab population.

Crabs count for millions of dollars in the Chesapeake. And every winter, crabs are counted to gauge their numbers, especially the small juveniles that grow to market size in summer.

“The numbers this year are disappointing,” said Lynn Fegley, Department of Natural Resources Fisheries.

According to the DNR, the big worry is: “The number of spawning age females declined fairly sharply,” Fegley said.

The survey found spawning age female crabs at 69 million–just below the 70 million minimum considered a safe population limit. Juvenile crabs increased by 78 percent from 2013, but that positive number still leaves the total population at 300 million–the lowest number in six years.

“I don’t dispute their findings at all. It’s terrible,” said waterman Blair Baltus.

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For watermen who have already been under restrictions limiting the amount of female crabs they can catch, the numbers could mean more cuts.

“They’ll go back now and maybe looking at a 10 percent reduction the rest of the season starting in June,” Baltus said.

“When we don’t have as many spawning age females in the bay, we start to worry about losing the ability to get lots of baby crabs back in the bay and keep that population churning,” Fegley said.

It’s not fishing reducing the population, scientists say it’s environmental. It’s possible there is less underwater grass to protect crabs from predators. And this past winter, up to 28 percent of the crabs hibernating in bay mud froze to death.

“I’ve seen them magically appear and magically disappear. It’s crabs,” said Baltus.

All of which is adding up to higher costs for consumers for crab feasts this summer.

Maryland and Virginia have both entered into an agreement to do whatever it takes to keep the blue crab population from crashing in the Chesapeake.

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