BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The 2017 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey shows that there has been a surge in spawning-age female crabs.

Their population has reached the highest level ever recorded in the 28-year history of the baywide survey. The spawning female stock increased 31 percent, from 194 million to 254 million, exceeding the healthy target level of 215 million for the first time since 2010.

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The survey also indicates the total crab population has slightly decreased due to what the Department of Natural Resources calls, “lackluster recruitment.”

“Blue crab reproduction is naturally highly variable due to the complex life cycle of the animal,” the DNR survey summary says. “Tiny, larval blue crabs spend the first part of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean and rely heavily on favorable currents, temperatures and winds to bring them into the Chesapeake Bay, where they grow. Optimal conditions do not occur every year, so a decrease in the number of young crabs this year was neither unexpected nor unprecedented.”

However, “despite the modest number of young crabs, the total population remains stable and the number of spawning age females – a major scientific benchmark for the health of the species – rose,” fishing and boating services director David Blazer said. “This is testament to the state’s adaptive and effective management of the fishery.”

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The overall population of crabs was estimated at 455 million, the 11th highest level recorded by the survey.

But while the adult female segment increased, the adult male stock decreased 16 percent.

“We will now discuss the survey results with the Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee and Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission to determine next steps,” Blazer said. “Any adjustment, be it catch limit or season length, will only be considered after we receive input from all parties involved.”

In the annual survey, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the bay from December through March. Crabs tend to bury in the mud in the winter, which makes it possible for scientists to develop accurate estimates.

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