Results from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources indicates that there are more than 550 million blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, an increase of more than a third over this time last year and one of the highest population counts of the past two decades.
A winter dredging survey found the strongest growth in the populations of adult male crabs, which more than doubled. The number of spawning females, a key barometer for future population growth, nearly doubled but remained slightly below a target population count of 215 million.
Waterman are hoping this data could prompt environmental regulators to loosen restrictions on harvest limits for female crabs.
The state natural resources department and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science conduct the survey annually between December and March using dredging equipment to capture and measure crabs at 1,500 sites around the bay. Scientists consider that method reliable and accurate because the crab population is largely burrowed in mud deposits during the winter.
The survey also found 194 million spawning female crabs, up from 101 million last winter, and 91 million adult male crabs, up from 44 million last winter. There are about 271 million juvenile crabs, a slight increase from last year’s 269 million.
The results show a continuing rebound in the crab population. The winter 2014-2015 survey found 38 percent growth over the previous winter. The 2015 crab season that followed brought a 42 percent increase in the bay-wide harvest, and for an eighth straight year, the harvest was considered to be a sustainable level.
The population count is the fourth-highest in 20 years.