ANNAPOLIS — The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay has dropped steeply, according to an annual survey released Friday, and Maryland officials said they will work with the crabbing industry to reduce bushel limits by about 10 percent for female crabs this year.
On a positive note, the number of spawning-age females increased by 52 percent after troubling numbers last year. The 2013 winter dredge survey, which samples about 1,500 sites across the bay, found the total number of blue crabs fell from 765 million to 300 million. The number of juvenile crabs fell from 581 million to 111 million.
“The bottom-line message is that the population overall — the number of crabs that are in Chesapeake Bay upon which the 2013 fisheries will work — is quite a bit lower than it was,” said Lynn Fegley, deputy director of fisheries at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The results are particularly disappointing, because last year’s survey noted the highest crab reproduction in the 24 years of the survey. Usually with a population increase like that, the harvest would be expected to increase.
“We didn’t see that, and what seems to have happened this year is that not only did we get low reproduction, but we seem to have had an elevated mortality event on the record juvenile class of last year,” Fegley said.