What can be done to save the east coast blue crab fishery?
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The blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is a decapod crustacean that inhabits estuarine and marine ecosystems of the western Atlantic Ocean. Blue crab is the largest and most valuable fishery for Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. In 2007 the blue crab fishery in the Chesapeake Bay crashed. Maryland and Virginia experienced the lowest landing levels since landings data were first recorded in 1950. As a result, I chose to investigate the east coast blue crab fishery and develop recommendations to improve blue crab populations of the Atlantic states. I analyzed blue crab landings data and management for all east coast states that report commercial landings to the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2007 approximately 81.5 million pounds of blue crabs were landed by New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and the east coast of Florida. The Atlantic coast landed almost 14 million pounds less blue crabs in 2007 than in 2006. Maryland saw the largest drop between 2006 and 2007 at almost seven million pounds, while Virginia and North Carolina both saw a drop of over three million pounds each. Most of the states analyzed showed a recurring pattern of a peak harvest in the mid-1990’s followed by a profound crash to the low landings seen today. As a result of the crashing blue crab populations, I developed a suite of recommendations to improve populations coast wide as well as coordinate blue crab management. First, blue crabs should be managed in two regions, North and South, split at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Second, female crabs need to be protected from havest pressures, especially sponge crabs. Third, dredging for crabs disproportionately targets fecund females so crab dredging should be banned coast wide. Finally, coastal ecosystems are severely degraded and tougher regulations and enforcement is required to preserve blue crab habitat.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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