Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs

Crabbing Season Opens Today in Virginia

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Crabbers in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay placed their pots in the water last Friday and were permitted to start fishing them daily today. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) has reduced the daily bushel limit by a significant 45% this year, from 50 bushels per day to just 27. The majority of crabs caught this week will be females, most of which will be sold on the live market due to the high prices paid to crabbers, making them unsuitable for crabmeat picking.

As the 2023 summer crab season begins, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population has reached its lowest recorded level, with an estimated 227 million crabs—the lowest figure in the winter dredge survey since its inception in 1990.

The male-to-female ratio is severely imbalanced, with only 25 million male crabs estimated to be in the Bay—the lowest number ever recorded. What happened to all the males? We caught them, of course. The decline in the male crab population can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic when indoor dining was restricted, and crabs became a popular choice for outdoor dining. With increased cash flow, consumers were willing to pay up to $250 for a bushel of #1 crabs, leading to a “bounty” on male blue crabs. Crabbers spent entire days on the water, as each crab they caught was worth approximately $4.

Now, a couple of years later, the industry is relying on Mother Nature to replenish the crab population by sending a surge of juvenile crabs this spring.