Chris Dollar: Interpretations vary on latest blue crab dredge survey | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY (2024)

I haven’t a clue as to how many blue crabs I’ve set eyes on over my lifetime spent on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but it’s a lot. And each one examined, or eaten, is as magical as the first.

The species is aptly named: Callinectes sapidus, which translates from Latin to mean “beautiful savory swimmer.” No truer moniker has existed. They’re also called Zoea, Megalops, Jimmy, Sook, Sally and Doubler (when a male and female are mating).

Most of us simply call them delicious. Whatever the moniker, these armored, fiercely beautiful crustaceans are well-suited to surviving the hardships dished out by a changing Chesapeake.

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer season, and it’s not really a Chesapeake summer without crabs. From Turkey Point to Stove Point, tens of thousands of folks will belly up to picnic tables and devour this bay delicacy.

Steaming recipes vary as does the choice of culinary accoutrements. (You didn’t think I knew that word, did you?) You do you, but Old Bay, melted butter and apple cider vinegar are stables at our crab picking table.

Coincidentley or not, results of the annual Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey were released this past week. Conducted by Maryland and Virginia Bay resource agencies since 1990, biologists use dredge equipment to capture, measure, record and release blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout Chesapeake Bay from December through March.

Most importantly, survey results play a vital role in ensuring consistent regulations are implemented across all three Bay jurisdictions. Managers also use the data to review annually current commercial and recreational regulations and make adjustments as needed.

Chris Dollar: Interpretations vary on latest blue crab dredge survey | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY (1)

Here are some key findings:

  • An estimated 317 million blue crabs are in Chesapeake Bay in 2024 as compared to 323 million last year and 315 million in 2010.
  • Spawning age female crabs down from 152 million in 2023 to 133 million crabs in 2024.
  • Adult male crabs declined from 55 million to 46 million.
  • Juvenile crabs rose slightly to 138 million; still below average for the past four years.

Agency leaders from Virginia and Maryland weighed in on their interpretation of the data. Lynn Fegley, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fishing and Boating Services Director, said in a statement the survey brought mixed news.

“An increase in juvenile recruitment is certainly welcome news, and the stock and population as a whole remains healthy,” Fegley said. “However, the continued relatively low recruitment numbers warrant a closer look at our approach moving forward.”

Jamie Green, Commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, touted Virginia’s license-specific bushel limits – implemented in 2013 – as an effective tool to better manage blue crabs.

“This [tool] provides Virginia the flexibility to reduce regulatory burdens that would economically benefit the industry while maintaining the long-term conservation goals of the joint Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions,” Green said in a statement.

Chris Moore heads up the Virginia office for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and he had a slightly more guarded take. He called the results “less than hoped for given the importance (culturally and economically) of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay region.”

Moore added that “states should proceed with caution” when considering changes that would increase harvest.

What struck me in the report is the consecutive years of low juvenile abundance. Worrisome for sure, and in fact a similar dilemma is hamstringing the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay striper fishery.

In both cases, the question remains what role does a changing climate (water temps, salinity, dissolved oxygen) and invasive predators such as blue catfish and snakeheads play in these keystone species ability to reach adulthood?

Snakeheads, I should note, have recently undergone a name upgrade and are now called “Chesapeake Channa.” In fact, this rebranding became Maryland law in April. Getting more people to eat these transplants from Asia, the logic goes, would protect juvenile crabs and native fish while at the same time increasing economic opportunity.

Makes sense — would you eat a fish once known as Frankenfish? Do you prefer slimehead or orange roughy? They’re the same fish. Chilean sea bass or toothfish? Ok, you get my point.

Asking the uninitiated to eat snake…err uh Channa might risk conjuring up recollections of the long defunct show “Fear Factor,” which pushed the limits of American depravity in pursuit of quick cash and a minute of bizarro fame.

Taking a hard pass on this tasty white meat fish would be a mistake because in reality it is, as my daughter would say, super delish. But I digress.

As managers plot out a future course to better manage the bay’s most valuable fishery, all eyes are focused on the stock assessment that launches this summer. The full report is expected to be done by March 2026, and should be instructive to fishery managers as they increase their understanding of the ecology of this species, how it is modeled, and whether the reference points used for management should be revised.

According to Mandy Bromilow, Maryland DNR’s blue crab program manager, it’s high time for an update. In a press release, she said “We haven’t had a real evaluation of the assumptions we have in the model, and there are new analytical methods that could be applied to the data.”

My takeaway is the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is relatively stable but not as good as it could or should be. It’s all of our job to do better. Now please pass vinegar and grab me a cold one. Oh, and gimme a chunk of that fried Channa, will ya?

Calendar

Through July: Resident striper season in Maryland is open. Restrictions apply. Check Maryland DNR regulations for specifics.

Through March 25, 2025: Great Invasive Species Count. Help collect important data while competing for great prizes. Register at ccamd.org/the-great-chesapeake-invasives-count.

May 28: Combo for Kids, presented by Anglers Sport Center. Provides fun opportunities to celebrate and enrich the lives of children and their families through fishing. At Ruth Eason School (648 Old Mill Road, Millersville). This event will bring water and fish to the school. Chesapeake Whalertowne to provide boats. Contact EJ Harman, (410) 299-2693.

June 16: Maryland DNR Fishing Rodeo at 10 a.m. Cypress Branch State Park in Kent County. Sponsor: Maryland Park Service. Ages 3-15. Contact Erin Gale, 410-820-1668.

June 27: Combo for Kids, presented by Anglers Sport Center. Provides fun opportunities to celebrate and enrich the lives of children and their families through fishing. At Mike’s Beach: Voices for Children (Boats needed – crabbing). Contact EJ Harman, (410) 299-2693.

July 13-14: CCA Maryland partners with Defensores de la Cuenca to host a two-day artificial reef ball building project at Sandy Point State Park.

July 25: Combo for Kids, presented by Anglers Sport Center, provides fun opportunities to celebrate and enrich the lives of children and their families through fishing. Presented by Anglers Sport Center. At Mike’s Beach: Baltimore County Police youth outreach. Contact EJ Harman, (410) 299-2693.

August 6: Combo for Kids, presented by Anglers Sport Center, provides fun opportunities to celebrate and enrich the lives of children and their families through fishing. Presented by Anglers Sport Center. S.A.F.E./KPIPP Kids Play in Patterson Park. Contact EJ Harman, (410) 299-2693.

Send outdoors calendar listings and photos to cdollarchesapeake@gmail.com.

Chris Dollar: Interpretations vary on latest blue crab dredge survey | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Van Hayes

Last Updated:

Views: 6356

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Van Hayes

Birthday: 1994-06-07

Address: 2004 Kling Rapid, New Destiny, MT 64658-2367

Phone: +512425013758

Job: National Farming Director

Hobby: Reading, Polo, Genealogy, amateur radio, Scouting, Stand-up comedy, Cryptography

Introduction: My name is Van Hayes, I am a thankful, friendly, smiling, calm, powerful, fine, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.