In the upper Bay (from the Choptank north), the trot liners are done, and the remaining crab potters are busy chasing the crabs out into deep water before they bed down for the winter. From the lower Bay (mouth of Patuxent R.) to the Bay bridge tunnel where the Chesapeake meets the ocean, crabs will still crawl a little bit until the end of November. The local blue crab population is in dire straights with the lowest male crab count (25 million) on record (2021-22 winter dredge survey).
In July, regulators imposed the first-ever limits on male crab harvest in the Chesapeake Bay. Fishermen and blue crab fishery managers pray for a dominant year class of crabs to magically appear on their own. That is “the path of least resistance” rather than addressing several destructive, unsustainable fishing practices here in the Chesapeake that have been allowed for too long.
These practices include targeting and catching small (3 inch) peelers, which is essentially the basis of our local soft crab industry. That violates the basic first rule of sustainability. All individuals of a sustainable population must be allowed to reproduce at least once before they can be harvested. These are mostly immature females that have yet to reproduce and will never get a chance to. In Louisiana, where they have more crabs than they know what to do with, you cannot keep a peeler less than 5 inches.
Another non-sustainable crab harvest is the winter dredging of female crabs. These are pregnant females that would have released their eggs in the spring. And lastly, picking houses in the late spring pick almost exclusively “sponge crabs”. These are female crabs whose eggs are on the outside of their shell, about to be released. They have little to no market value and are picked to be sold for cheap.
With current blue crab population numbers at record lows, it makes no sense to continue these destructive fishing practices without reviewing and at least modifying them in some way.