Friday, August 31, 2012

Labor Day crab derby or just another average year?

Here in the Chesapeake Bay we've had predictions of a huge crab harvest in late summer and fall. These predictions stemmed from the unprecedented number of small crabs caught last winter in the Winter Dredge Survey, the annual survey of Bay blue crab populations conducted by Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (see figure above).

Will lots of juveniles in winter turn into lots of adults to be harvested for Labor Day festivities?

An intern at the Crab Lab here at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (officially the Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab) asked just that question this summer. Eric Parks (in picture below), a rising junior at Savannah State University, traveled to seven different areas of Chesapeake Bay to find out how many juvenile crabs were there. These areas were the Middle River, Magothy River, Rhode River, and Patuxent River on the western shore and Eastern Bay, Little Choptank River, and Upper Tangier Sound on the eastern shore.

Crabs were collected by towing a small net at 12 stations in each location, and crabs were counted and measured. Most of the crabs Eric caught were medium to large juveniles - the same age group of crabs that were caught in high abundance as small juveniles in the Winter Dredge Survey.

In most places, there were more crabs than there had been before harvest rules were changed in 2008 to protect more reproductive females. This is good news because it continues to suggest that the harvest rules are helping restore crab populations. However, in most places the number of crabs was not much different than in 2010 or 2011.

If you are out crabbing this Labor Day you should have some success. Just don't be too disappointed if the number you catch isn't much different from the last two years. Things should still be much better than they were in the late 90's and 00's.

Comment on this post with stories of your Labor Day crabbing experiences. I'll be curious to hear whether catches are great or if it's just another average year.

If you are looking for some crabby fun this Labor Day weekend, head to the First Annual Annapolis Crab Derby at the Annapolis Maritime Museum on Saturday ( or to Crisfield for the National Annual Hard Crab Derby ( which goes on all weekend.

1 comment:

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