BALTIMORE (WJZ) — After a decline the past two years, the bay’s crab population is again growing in the right direction.

Alex DeMetrick reports it just needs to grow some more.

Figuring out how many crabs are in the bay falls to researchers who survey hibernating crabs each winter. Population estimates are made from what’s found. This year, 410 million crabs are estimated to be in the bay, a 38% increase from last year—but it’s still below the average population of 454 million.

“They are an improvement from last year. The news is good but unfortunately it’s not great,” said Brenda Davis, Department of Natural Resources.

And even with 101 million spawning-age female crabs…

“Our target abundance is 215 million,” Davis said.

Which could mean a continuation of rules limiting the amount of female crabs that can be caught. The only number above average is for juvenile crabs that will grow to market size by the end of summer.

“How many of them are going to survive the rockfish, the blue catfish, the hard heads, the white perch, seagulls, everything else? That’s a question,” said waterman Blair Balthus.

For watermen like Balthus, that answer can’t be provided by the survey.

“What they know about crabs, a lot of it is assumed,” Balthus said.

Balthus has compared two decades of survey results with harvest figures and sees no correlation but the state still sees a resource below average levels.

“We still need to take some precautions,” Davis said.

For watermen, there’s only one sure way of gauging the crab population and the season to come:

“I’ll let you know in November, when the checks are cashed,” Balthus said.

This past winter didn’t do the crabs any good; 19% of the adult crabs in the bay died from the intense cold.


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