Crab Population Up; Restrictions Credited

“The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay increased about 43-percent last year, according to recent survey data, and scientists said it was probably a sign that measures taken to protect the beleaguered bay are working. A bay wide survey this winter, in which scientists counted crabs by dredging them out of their sandy burrows, yielded a population estimate of just more than 400-million, up from 280-million last winter.

Blue crabs are a species prone to explosive swings in population, so there is no guarantee that the growth will continue. Scientists and state officials said they were encouraged by the results, especially by the near-doubling in the number of adult females. The population numbers are still far below where they were in the early 1990s. In 1991, there were an estimated 828-million crabs in the bay. The species has suffered because of declining water quality and heavy fishing from watermen, who have come to focus more on crabs since the Chesapeake’s oysters have dropped to historic lows.

Last year, Maryland and Virginia took major steps to cut back on the harvest of female crabs, which produce the eggs that could rebuild the Chesapeake’s population. The states limited the number of female crabs that could be taken at certain times and banned Virginia’s traditional “”dredge”” fishery, in which watermen scraped the crustaceans out of their winter burrows. Those moves came at a serious cost to the bay’s watermen: The federal government declared their fishery a disaster last year.