BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When it comes to keeping the Chesapeake Bay filled with blue crabs, females are the building blocks. Now, efforts to increase the number of them in the bay is paying off.

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

To get a good estimate of blue crabs in the bay, you have to count them. Every winter, Department of Natural Resources researchers dredge crabs out of the mud at the bottom of the bay, sampling hundreds of sites.

The latest survey estimates that there are 455 million crabs bay-wide, down from 550 million.

But for the first time in at least 28 years, spawning females hit 254 million, a 31 percent increase over the last survey.

“We’ve actually achieved our target and exceeded our target level for abundance of females,” says Michael Luisi, of DNR Fisheries. “It’s something we’re very happy about.”

The increase is likely due in part to restrictions on harvesting females in Maryland and Virginia. With numbers now up, there could be efforts to ease those rules. Scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation urge caution, however.

“I think it’s really time to stay the course and make sure that we continue to see this positive trend,” says Allison Colden.

But not all the numbers are up. This year the survey found fewer juvenile crabs in the bay.

Crabs start out life as larvae in the Atlantic, and whether or not they make it back to the Chesapeake to grow into adults depends a lot on tides and winds.

“It likely means we could see good harvests early on in the season, they’re probably going to drop off in the late summer or early fall,” Colden says.

“There will still be plenty of crabs for recreational and commercial fisherman for the summer, but we’re going to have to make adjustments or consider adjustments,” Luisi says.

A group of scientists will analyze the survey results, and advise Maryland the Virginia on harvest limits.

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