Maryland blue crab harvests are reportedly low this spring, impacting the watermen, and some restaurants, whose owners are having difficulty obtaining affordable, local catch for consumers. (See The Baltimore Sun and The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star). The annual Bay-wide winter dredge survey conducted earlier this year found that the Bay’s blue crab population has risen by over 1 million crabs from last year’s drastically low numbers. So why are harvests low so far this year?
According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), a combination of factors could be contributing to low harvest numbers at this point in the season. While the winter dredge survey found that juveniles and female crab numbers were up (which is very important for sustaining and building up the crab population in future months), the males took a “huge hit” from cold-water temperatures this winter. Other contributing factors could be pollution, low reproduction levels, and predation. Marine species such as the blue catfish, red drum, and the cownose ray are common predators of the Chesapeake blue crab. The VMRC stated that the blue catfish, an invasive species with little to no predators of its own, has grown in population this year. (Stay tuned for more information on the blue catfish).
While it is too early for the VMRC to release data on harvest numbers at this point in the commercial crabbing season, commercial watermen submit harvest reports to the agency on a monthly basis. Data should be available by August.
**The commercial blue crabbing season (harvesting by crab pot) began March 17 in Virginia, and will end on November 30. Other methods of catching crabs (ie. pound nets, etc.) for commercial watermen are allowed May 1 through November 30. In Maryland, the commercial crabbing season runs April 1 through December 15.