Fisheries Feed

Virginia Considers Resuming Dredging for Female Crabs

BluecrabCHESAPEAKEBAYPROGRAMAs my colleague Chuck Epes wrote earlier this week, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs are once again in troubled waters. The catch was poor this summer. And the number of juvenile crabs estimated this past winter was 80 percent lower than the winter before.  The number of spawning-age females was up, but still at levels far below what managers consider ideal.

Despite the unstable situation with the Bay’s iconic species, Virginia is considering re-opening its waters to dredging for crabs in the winter, which the commonwealth has banned since 2008. The ban was instituted as part of a joint effort with Maryland to boost crab reproduction by help the survival of female crabs carrying fertilized eggs. Dredges are rake-like devices with nets that are dragged along the bottom to scoop up crabs (often females, in the southern Bay during the winter) while they hibernate.

A vote by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on a possible re-opening of the winter dredge season is scheduled for Tuesday. 

John Bull, a spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said that Virginia law requires VMRC to reconsider and reapprove the ban every year. “There has been a vocal number of commercial crabbers who have been adamant that we reopen this winter dredge fishery,” Bull said.  “It’s an old fishery –- it’s been around for 100 years.  We only closed it annually since 2008.  And these dredgers have been pushing us for a number of years here to reopen it. They feel like they were unfairly singled out.”

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The Oyster Returns to Baltimore

Rodenhausen with oysterA native son came home to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor today. Television crews jostled for pictures.

The oyster is back.

And we’re not talking oysters on the half shell (probably imported from the Gulf of Mexico) served chilled with horseradish in nearby restaurants. We’re talking live oysters, working oysters, spitting oysters, the kind that can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.  

Oyster map.jpgThe first of about 40,000 baby oysters were lowered in cages into the dark waters next to the National Aquarium, thanks to a partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and area students. Five “oyster gardens” around the Inner Harbor will nurture the fledgling bivalves over the next 10 months. Then they will then be placed on a reef near the Key Bridge. If the project is successful, the operation will be repeated in future years.

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Trouble Brewing for Blue Crabs

Perhaps the most iconic critter associated with the Chesapeake Bay is the blue crab. Despite the Bay’s ongoing pollution and other problems, crabs remain among the largest and most profitable fisheries in the Bay.

And why not? Who doesn’t like feasting on a delicious crab cake dinner, a creamy bowl of she-crab soup, or a pot of freshly steamed hard crabs, then washing it down with a frosty beverage?

But here’s the rub: the Bay’s crab population is at worrisome low levels. In fact, it has been a terrible crabbing year, and many people are concerned.

TotaljuvenileThe troubling situation actually was anticipated by watermen who reported very low catches last year, and by scientists who conduct an annual survey to assess the Bay’s crab population and set science-based harvest limits. The most recent survey found that the number of baby crabs had dropped by about 80% from the year before.

Interestingly, the survey also found the number of adult female crabs had increased about 50% from the previous year, although still at levels far below what managers consider ideal.

According to Bay scientists, recent low crab numbers are most likely due to low numbers of adult females, unfavorable weather, and predation.

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Look to the Lafayette!

VIPs tossing oysters into River for web The health of the Chesapeake Bay is, depending upon various reports, unchanged, slightly better, or slightly worse. Regardless of the precise status, experts agree the Bay remains seriously out of balance and greatly compromised by pollution.

That’s why the new federal-state Bay restoration initiative is so important to implement.  The initiative puts the Bay on a pollution diet and directs the Bay states and localities to devise plans to stick to it. The diet will reduce pollution to levels the Bay can safely handle and still support all the crabs, fish, oysters -- and people -- who call the Bay home.  The goal is to implement all the plans in the next 15 years.

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