The "delicious beautiful swimmer," as its Latin name Callinectes sapidus describes, is in trouble.
The 2007 harvest was the lowest in decades, but restrictions put in place around the bay in 2008 appear to be helping, according to a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assessment. But the news is not all rosy:
Abundance of blue crabs over the age of one was 223 million, a 70% increase from the 2007-08 survey numbers. This was primarily due to an increase in abundance of spawning-age females. Since the winter dredge survey began in 1990, the average blue crab population in the bay has been 186 million.
Bay-wide, numbers of juvenile crabs entering the population did not increase appreciably. There were an estimated 179 million juvenile crabs in the bay well below the surveys long-term average of 258 million.
The estimated 2008 harvest of blue crabs from the bay and tributaries was 48.6 million pounds 11% higher than the record-low 43.5 million pounds in 2007, but well below the long-term average of 74 million pounds.
Based on these statistics, an estimated 48% of crabs were harvested from the bay by commercial and recreational fishers in 2008. That is below the overfishing threshold of 53%, but slightly above the target of 46%.
Already, a lot of the crabs sold in the Chesapeake come from the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, some restaurants have turned to other estuaries to provide enough crabs, including the Hudson River.
The bay is not only affected by heaving crabbing by baymen, but by a wide and complicated set of pollution issues owing to the bay's huge watershed: farm runoff as far away as central New York, and suburban runoff from a wide swath of the Washington-New York corridor, all runs off into the Chesapeake Bay. Excess nutrients can fuel oxygen-starved conditions known as dead zones, causing a ripple of damage through the ecosystem.
Conditions threatening the bay have prompted a huge, sustained and expensive federal-state response ... but with mixed results. That's why The Daily Green named crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay one of 10 Endangered Vacations.
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