The Bay’s blue crabs stock has not shown any sign of recovering from the near record lows that have persisted in recent years, according to the latest stock analysis.

The annual blue crab advisory report of the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee concluded that “blue crab abundance is close to the record low and in decline in recent years.”

It further cautioned that the “level of risk to the stock and fishery … remains high.” It also said that recent actions to curb fishing pressure should remain in place until results are observed.

The assessment committee used data from four independent surveys taken last year and over the winter to reach its overall conclusions.
Taken together, the surveys show:

  • Recruitment — a measure of young produced — appears to be in a declining trend since the early 1990s.
  • Exploitable stock abundance — a measure of harvest-size crabs — has been declining since the early 1990s and is approaching record lows.
  • Spawning stock abundance — a measure of mature females — remained at the record low hit last year.

Of particular concern was the possibility that fishing mortality, the amount of the population being caught by crabbers, could be increasing.

Although the traditional technique for estimating fishing mortality showed no change, a new method based on results from the Baywide winter dredge survey and commercial and recreational harvest data suggests that the rate has increased.

Because of the discrepancy, the committee said it could not determine a trend for fishing mortality.

Fishery officials said the conclusions were not surprising because new efforts to curb fishing pressure only began going into effect last year.

To help protect the Bay’s most valuable remaining commercial species, the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee recommended in December 2000 that harvest pressure be reduced by 15 percent, with the goal of doubling the size of the spawning population.

The first 5 percent of that cut took effect last year, and Maryland and Virginia officials this year accelerated their actions, allowing both states to achieve the full 15 percent reduction by the end of 2002 — one year ahead of schedule.