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Governors O’Malley and Kaine Announce Increase in Bay Blue Crab Population
Winter Dredge Survey Indicates Bi-State Management Actions are Having Desired Effect; Conservation Measures Will Be Maintained
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 potential.
“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 years.”
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 2009.
Additional information is available at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/crab/031709crabdredgebrief.pdf.
April 17, 2009
Contact: Megan Rhoads
Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 449,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov