Fisheries

The Chesapeake Bay Program Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (Fisheries GIT) is comprised of regional fishery managers and other key stakeholders that collaboratively work towards sustaining Chesapeake Bay fish and shellfish populations. Indicators for evaluating the health and status of oysters, Atlantic menhaden, striped bass, and American shad are being re-considered. The Fisheries GIT is looking at new methods for representing the health and management of these species to include ecosystem considerations. These metrics are expected to be used in the future.

The Fisheries GIT has agreed to a goal to restore 20 tributaries by 2025 with healthy oyster populations and habitat. Maryland has increased the protection of the remaining quality habitat for oysters from 9 percent to 25 percent through its Sanctuary Program and the Fisheries GIT has adopted a set of oyster restoration performance metrics that, for the first time in the Chesapeake Bay, establish a common definition for tributary and reef-level restoration success. Using the oyster restoration metrics and through collaborative decision-making with the state of Maryland, the Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA, the first tributary to be restored is Harris Creek.  A tributary restoration plan with defined restoration targets has been completed for Harris Creek.

Information on blue crab abundance and management progress and goals is described below.

What is the current
abundance of female crabs?
 

Are female crabs
sustainably harvested?

Mouse over graph for more detailed information

In 2013, the population of adult female (1 year old and greater) blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay was 147 million, higher than the 2012 population (97 million). These numbers (abundance) have remained above the critical threshold of 70 million females since 2003, and near the newly established adult female target of 215 million from 2009-2011. In order to strike a balance between ecosystem values and commercial and public access to the fishery, assessments are conducted to evaluate the health of the blue crab population primarily through the annual Winter Dredge Survey (WDS), conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The survey compiles crab data from 1,500 randomly selected sampling sites throughout the Bay and is based on density of crabs per 1,000 square meters.

The WDS provides scientists and managers with a snapshot of the crab population in the Chesapeake Bay for the given year. Results from 1997-2007 indicated lagging abundances of blue crabs, particularly females, resulting in lowered reproduction. This led to establishing, in 2008, a harvest restriction on females coordinated by Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, and the development of a target specific to female crab abundance. For additional information on blue crab science and management in the Chesapeake Bay, please visit the NOAA Chesapeake Office's Blue Crab webpage.

Mouse over graph for more detailed information

Based on the best available science including data on sex, life-stage, and abundance, the target for catch (or fishing exploitation fraction) is set at 25 percent of the estimated female abundance (see figure at left), and the Overfishing Threshold set at 34 percent. These levels allow enough individual crabs to remain unharvested and produce a healthy population and yield for the following year. Ideally, the fishery should operate to meet target values and should never surpass threshold values.

Data for 2012 indicate that the Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvest comprised 10 percent of the female population. This is below the overfishing threshold, and below the target. The 2013 exploitation fraction cannot be calculated until tabulation of the 2013 harvest estimate, (expected in late Spring of 2014). The latest Blue Crab Advisory Report and report figures, released by the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee and approved by the Fisheries GIT, summarize the most recent abundances, thresholds and harvest targets. The 2013 report also explains new conservation triggers for male crabs that will signal to management jurisdictions when male-specific conservation measures should be considered.

 

Progress managing crabs is an assessment of whether Bay Program partners are making progress on their goals and planned actions. Achieving abundance goals is influenced by many factors, such as weather, resulting in goal changes that do not always directly correspond to changes in restoration progress.

Why is fish and shellfish abundance important?

For the Bay to be considered restored, there must be healthy and abundant fish and shellfish populations. Blue crabs, oysters, striped bass, shad, and menhaden are some of the Bay’s most iconic species and are an essential part of the region’s commercial fisheries, recreational activities, and cultural and culinary identity. They also play critical roles in the Bay’s ecosystem and require clean water, ample aquatic habitat and properly managed fisheries to be healthy and reproduce.

Indicators show that the Chesapeake's fish and shellfish are suffering due to polluted water, overharvesting, lack of food and habitat, and diseases.  Most fish and shellfish populations in the Bay remain far below desired levels.

The Bay Program partners focus on practices, policies, and programs that will restore and sustain all fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and advance ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Bay. The current ways we measure progress do not fully capture the work being done to develop ecosystem-based fisheries management approaches.