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A bushel of lively blue crabs is a common of summer around Chesapeake Bay. The fact that we can't control Mother Nature makes it even more imperative that we focus on the elements we can control, like science-based fishery management and reducing the pollution that enters the Bay. Known as the "beautiful swimmer," blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus , are the most iconic Chesapeake Bay species.

They are found in coastal waters along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, although their range stretches as far south as Argentina in South America. These grass beds form a crucial habitat that provides food, shelter, and protection when crabs are young and when they mate and molt shed their shell. Depending on the time of year, blue crabs can be found in different parts of the Bay. Mating often occurs in shallower waters that support underwater grass beds.

Once they have mated, female crabs migrate to the saltier waters at the mouth of the Bay to spawn. The tiny blue crab larvae begin their lives in the ocean, growing and molting several times before they return to the Bay. It takes a year to 18 months for a crab to reach maturity. Moreover, crabs continue to hold great cultural ificance in the watershed. Picking steamed crabs has reached the level of an artform in many Chesapeake Bay communities, where they are often enjoyed for summer holidays and at family gatherings, and crab cakes are a staple of both restaurants and home cooking.

Blue crabs serve many important roles in the Bay food web. As larvae they are preyed upon by numerous filter-feeders, such as menhaden. As they grow older, crabs feed upon a variety of smaller bivalves that live on the Bay floor. Eventually, many crabs are then preyed upon by larger fish and birds. Some of the more common Bay species that eat blue crabs include red drum, croaker, blue catfish and cobia. And, yes, the tales of cannibalism are true— blue crabs will eat other blue crabs. Each winter, Maryland and Virginia partner on a scientific dredge survey, which produces an estimate of the of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

This is one of the most comprehensive surveys of any species in the Bay, dating back more than 30 years to The survey is usually conducted December through March, and preliminary are released around late April. A comprehensive review of those is completed annually by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee and released in early July. In , the winter dredge survey showed a drop in blue crab population from an estimated million to million. The of adult females, the segment of the population we look at most closely to gauge the overall health of the population, increased from an estimated million to million, a within the margins considered to be a healthy stock.

Juvenile crab s, however, decreased to their lowest level since the survey began in The blue crab population fluctuates annually based on a variety of factors, including reproductive success, weather, predation, and harvest. The extremely low estimate of the juvenile population in highlights the need to continue to protect spawning fes and to consider precautionary measures to protect juveniles so they can grow to maturity and spawn.

In general, the population has been more robust since a science-based Bay-wide management plan was agreed to in One of the best indicators of this increased abundance has been the fact that s have surpassed the target abundance for adult female blue crabs twice since , after exceeding it just once between and The long-term trend tells us that the blue crab population will respond positively to management actions.

This highlights the need to continue to ensure wise management of this valuable resource. The blue crab is one of the more resilient Chesapeake Bay species, but it faces constant challenges to survive: predators, dead zones of low oxygen, vanishing habitat, and at times cold winters, to name a few. Especially for young and female crabs, underwater grasses represent one of the most important habitats for foraging and protection.

High flows of fresh water wash more pollution into the Bay, affecting water clarity and blocking sunlight that grasses need to survive, and warming water temperatures can create further stress. Dead zones are caused by excessive nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the water, which feeds large algal blooms.

Dead zones form when the algae die, sink to the bottom, and are decomposed by bacteria—a process that strips dissolved oxygen from the surrounding water. Dense algal blooms also block sunlight, which prevents underwater grasses from growing. Fishing pressure also has an impact on the blue crab population. A decade or so later, the crab population had been cut in half to around million. Not only was the blue crab population itself depleted, so too were the oyster reefs and underwater grasses that provide crabs with food, shelter, and oxygen.

New science-based guidelines were established in , focusing on a reduction of the catch of female crabs in order to ensure sufficient spawning. Fortunately, the population has responded positively to these changes.

In , Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission adopted a goal to reach million spawning-age female crabs in the population known as the target and to keep the of spawning-age female crabs from falling below 70 million the threshold. These goals are achieved through fishery management actions that define regulations such as harvest limits, crabbing seasons, size limits, gear restrictions, and others.

The ultimate goal of management is to create a stable blue crab population. The fishery is therefore very dependent on the survival of young crabs from one year to the next, creating instability as the population may fluctuate ificantly. Having more, older crabs in the population increases the reproductive potential, providing a buffer that helps stabilize the population even in years when poor weather conditions or other factors negatively impact the population. Larger crabs, on average, are also more valuable in the market, and therefore result in better economic returns for the crabber.

It is therefore essential for Maryland and Virginia to continue applying the science-based fishery management guidelines adopted in , which have helped blue crabs—especially adult female crabs—rebound. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint , the science-based plan to restore the Bay, requires each of the six Bay states and the District of Columbia to put practices in place by that will reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

Better stormwater management, through practices such as forested stream buffers and green infrastructure, can also help mitigate weather extremes and improve water quality. And reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and implementing practices that keep carbon out of the atmosphere—including regenerative agriculture practices —will help reduce climate change and its impacts on blue crab habitat. During a to month life span, a blue crab will molt over 20 times.

What goes on inside the animal to trigger the shedding of it's entire shell? And what does it mean for the crab, and for the crabbers who do business in soft crabs? John Williams sheds light on both the human and critter stories. John Williams as he shares anglers' secrets for finding grass shrimp and how to use them to catch your preferred fin fish.

Not interested in fishing? They also make a great appetizer! John Williams as he reveals how tropical storm Agnes led to a better understanding of the traveling life of baby Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. Stay up to date about the Bay! Up. Since , CBF's State of the Bay report has been tracking the health of the Chesapeake Bay and providing insight into the progress—or lack thereof—being made.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab, the threats it faces, and why it is so important to the health of our Bay. CBF raised concerns about Bay restoration efforts following the August dead zone report. The report, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Old Dominion University, found that dissolved oxygen conditions in Maryland and Virginia were worse than average this August following two better-than-average months.

Long-term, blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are doing better than they were. But a record low of juvenile crabs this year raises the need for caution. Our monthly roundup of engaging and educational content for you to enjoy at home. This month, we look at how the health of our communities is inseparable from the health of our environment. The State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever.

Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come. Founded in , the Chesapeake Bay Foundation CBF is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay. Blue Crabs A bushel of lively blue crabs is a common of summer around Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit: Carrie B. Supporting One of the Bay's Most Valuable Fisheries The fact that we can't control Mother Nature makes it even more imperative that we focus on the elements we can control, like science-based fishery management and reducing the pollution that enters the Bay.

What Are Blue Crabs? Traveling Crabs. More About Blue Crabs. Blue Crabs Infographic Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab, the threats it faces, and why it is so important to the health of our Bay. Blue Crabs: How are They Doing?

June 23, Long-term, blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are doing better than they were. Donate Today. Save the Bay. Items 1 - 6 of

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