Governors O’Malley and Kaine Announce Increase in Bay Blue Crab Population

Annapolis, Md. and Richmond, Va. – Maryland Governor Martin
O’Malley and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine today announced the
Chesapeake Bay’s adult population of blue crabs has increased
substantially over last year, indicating management measures put
into place in 2008 to address population declines are working. The
results of the most recent bay-wide winter dredge survey, which is
conducted annually by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), estimate
the total number of crabs overwintering in the Chesapeake Bay
during 2008-2009 has increased from 280 million in 2007-2008 to
just over 400 million.

The increase in abundance is primarily due to a striking
increase in the number of adult female crabs, nearly double last
year’s estimate. Coupled with a 50 percent increase in abundance of
adult males, overall adult abundance in 2008-2009 is estimated to
be approximately 240 million crabs — slightly over the interim
target level of 200 million set by the Chesapeake Bay Stock
Assessment Committee in early 2008.

Despite the adult population increase, the abundance of
young-of-the-year crabs (less than 2 inches across the carapace)
did not change measurably from last year, and remains below the
18-year survey average. These crabs will become vulnerable to the
fisheries late in the 2009 season and represent the 2010 spawning

“The success of these management measures sets the stage for the
next step of recovery for the Bay’s blue crab, an increase in
juveniles that we hope to see next year,” said Governor O’Malley.
“The ultimate challenge, of course, is to achieve sustainable crab
fishery and maintain it over time.”

“We recognize that this success did not come without unavoidable
economic impact to those who work in Maryland’s crabbing industry,”
added Governor O’Malley. “I thank them for their conservation
efforts and remain committed to mitigating the impact of
conservation measures on our working families as we work to create
a more profitable and sustainable crab fishery.”

“This is terrific news and a great first step, but this does not
mean the problem is solved,’’ said Governor Kaine. “This scientific
survey clearly shows we are on the right path but we need to
continue our conservation efforts to rebuild this environmentally
and economically vital species. I want to thank our crab industry
for their support and endurance through these difficult times.”

Last spring, in response to scientific data that showed the
Bay-wide population of blue crabs had plunged 70 percent since
1993, the two Governors agreed to work collaboratively on a
Bay-wide effort to rebuild the species by reducing the harvest of
the spawning stock of female blue crabs by 34 percent in 2008.

At that time, scientists from both states deemed conservation
measures necessary as blue crabs suffered near historic lows in
spawning stock. Despite the states’ shared harvest target of 46
percent, in place since 2001, the combination of low abundance of
crabs and continuing high fishing pressure led to more than 60
percent of the Bay’s crab population being harvested in 2007.

Overall, the survey indicates that the 2008 coordinated
management actions implemented by the State of Maryland, the
Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries
Commission, were collectively effective at increasing the abundance
of spawning–age females, a major goal of the 2008 conservation
measures. These adult females will spawn this summer, and the
resulting young crabs will be measured as young-of-the-year during
the 2009-2010 survey. It is expected that the large number of
mature female crabs conserved last year will significantly increase
the chances of a strong spawn in 2009.

“While we are still above our target exploitation rate of 46
percent, the survey results represent an important first success in
moving the Bay’s blue crab population to a healthier state,” said
DNR Secretary John Griffin. “Now we must have the discipline to
stay the course, so that we may ultimately achieve and maintain a
sustainable fishery.”

“It is pleasing to see this collaborative effort to rebuild the
Bay’s blue crab population achieve so much, so fast,” said Virginia
Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Jr. “While much
remains to be done, sound science shows we are on the way to
creating a sustainable blue crab fishery.”

“The sharp increase in crab abundance was not a random event,
nor was it due to improved environmental conditions. It was clearly
due to the recent management actions,” said Dr. Rom Lipcius, who
directs the VIMS component of the dredge survey. “Now, we have to
ensure that these females survive to spawn this summer, and that
their offspring produce a healthy spawning stock in coming

Based upon winter dredge survey results, Maryland and Virginia
may allow for a modest increase in the harvest of female crabs,
while still focusing on the shared goal of ensuring that no more
than 46 percent of the available crabs are removed in any year. The
details of any changes to catch limits and or closing dates will be
developed in coordination among the management jurisdictions and in
consultation with stakeholders. Changes are anticipated by the end
of May.

The Bay jurisdictions will be working through 2009 to establish
long term management approaches that will maintain focus on annual
removal rates, improve the efficiency and predictability of blue
crab management (i.e. develop harvest allocation by jurisdiction)
and increase the level of certainty in our management actions (i.e.
addressing latent effort).

Governor O’Malley has worked with Maryland legislators to
identify funding to help mitigate the economic impact of the
regulations on the blue crab industry. The majority of $3 million
designated from the State’s FY ’09 Capital budget has funded a work
program through which more than 500 watermen have conducted oyster
bar rehabilitation activities; $500,000 has been allocated to fund
aquaculture projects. An additional $3 million is included in the
State’s FY ’10 budget to continue this important work.

In September 2008, Maryland and Virginia were each awarded $10
million in federal blue crab disaster funds from NOAA‘s National
Marine Fisheries Service, in response to a request from Governors
O’Malley and Kaine, and advocacy by the Maryland Congressional
Delegation under the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski. Each
State also expects to receive $5 million in additional federal
disaster funding as a result of recent federal budget action.

Maryland has committed much of its federal blue crab fisheries
disaster money toward additional work for watermen, addressing
critical issues such as the large volume of unused crabbing
licenses ($4 million have been targeted for license buy–backs), a
quality crab meat assurance program, additional funding for
economic diversification into aquaculture, and enhanced enforcement
of crabbing restrictions.

The Bay-wide blue crab winter dredge survey is a cooperative
effort between DNR and VIMS, and is the primary survey used to
assess the condition of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population.
Since 1990, the survey has employed crab dredges to sample blue
crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December
through March. By sampling during winter when blue crabs are buried
in the mud and stationary, scientists can develop, with good
precision, estimates of the number of crabs present in the Bay.

Estimates of abundance are developed separately for young of the
year crabs, mature female crabs, and adult male crabs. Together,
these groups of crabs will support the 2009 fishery and produce the
next generation of crabs. In May, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Stock
Assessment Committee (CBSAC) will conduct a complete examination of
the blue crab data including dredge survey results and 2008 harvest
information. The results of this analysis will be presented in the
2009 Blue Crab Advisory Report to be released in late summer of

Additional information is available at

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