Friday, March 24, 2006

Blue Crabs on the Rise?

The blue crab population in the Chesapeake appears to be coming back after a decade of being in desperate straits.

The estimate of 487 million crabs in the bay last year does not approach the roughly 751 million of a decade ago. On Hoopers Island alone, several crab-picking houses have closed in recent years. Of the 6,000 licensed crabbers in Maryland, about 1,500 are earning a living from their catch. Other watermen have taken up jobs driving trucks or fishing for scallops in the Atlantic.

By the late 1990s, the dwindling of the crab population had begun to cause real alarm.

"It got to the point where 2000 rolled around, and there was just a lot of concern about whether this fishery would stay alive," Fegley said. "We decided we needed to decrease the rate of removal by 15 percent to make the population sustainable."

A stronger population of crabs should help all aspects of the bay's ecology, including the birds that feed on crabs. It should also help the region's economy, since a growing crab population will maintain the industry that depends on a stable source of crabs. Restrictions now will pay off in the future.