Maryland’s commercial crabbing season will now end a week and a half early, due to concerns over the decreasing crab population. The state also imposed a late-season bushel limit to try and prevent further loss. The decision was announced on Tuesday by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The announcement came a day after a scientific panel recommended that Maryland and Virginia decrease the number of crabs caught in this year’s harvest.
The new ordinance will not impact the crab feast season, which runs from July the 4th through Labor Day. Information believes crabs could be harder to find and scarcer during this busy time of the year. This year’s annual population survey revealed that Chesapeake Bay had half as many juvenile crabs this winter than the previous year. In total, the survey reported nearly 100 million fewer crabs than before.
State officials believe the rule change is “modest but important”. Since the release of the survey, experts have warned that the dwindling population of juvenile crabs could negatively impact the harvest this year and next. The Natural Resources Secretary for Maryland, Mark Belton, insisted the decision was in the best interest for the health and ongoing productivity of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery.
Earlier this year, Belton sparked controversy by firing the state’s long serving crab fishery manager. Insiders speculate that Brenda Davis was removed from her position, because crabbers felt she was inflexible to their requests to have harvest rules loosened. The annual winter crab survey provides an accurate representation of the number of crustaceans in the water. Researchers confirmed that the crab population in the Chesapeake Bay fell from 550 million in 2016 to 455 million for this year.
Researches attribute the losses to a more than fifty percent decrease in the juvenile crab population. Simultaneously, the drop came despite a record number of adult female crabs being present. To accommodate the concerns of scientists and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, Maryland will end its crab season on November the 20th, which is 10 days earlier than the extended 2016 harvesting season.
Crabbers will also face restrictions regarding the number of adult females captured this year. Later year, both Maryland and Virginia extended their crab harvesting season by three weeks. This year both will reverse the decision. In general, Chesapeake Bay’s crab popular tends to fluctuate. On average, a crab can live for approximately two years.