Easily recognized by their bright blue claws and olive-green carapace, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is an iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay. As a keystone species in the food web the blue crab serves an essential ecological function but also supports a vital commercial and recreational fishery that helps economically support many communities around the bay. In addition to dockside value, the blue crab is also important to tourism and serves as a cultural symbol for the region.
The mission of the blue crab program is to monitor the blue crab population and manage the blue crab fishery. The program conducts surveys annually to assess the population and monitor the fishery. Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission work together to manage the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery using science-based guidelines with the goal of maintaining a healthy and sustainable blue crab population.
The Blue Crab Program conducts two population monitoring surveys annually, the Winter Dredge Survey and the Summer Trawl Survey. These surveys are designed to sample the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population and their habitat. Results from both surveys are published on the website annually.
The Blue Crab Program also monitors the commercial fishery through our Cooperative Data Collection Program. This program employs a combination of independently working watermen who volunteer to participate and staff biologists to collect blue crab harvest data while onboard commercial vessels.
The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is managed through a bay-wide cooperative agreement that, since 2008, focuses on female-based management strategies. Working together, Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission strive to meet a target of 196 million spawning age female crabs each year. Protection of a sufficient number of spawning age females helps ensure enough young crabs are produced to sustain the population.
Every year the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee reviews the results of the Winter Dredge Survey in relation to the 196 million spawning age female target to provide guidance to the three jurisdictions on what, if any, management measures are needed. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources uses this guidance to work with the Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee to develop female hard crab bushel limits and season closures annually. These catch limits are set so that the fishery does not harvest too many spawning age females, also called overfishing.
To see the most recent commercial female catch limits please visit the crab section of our Public Notices webpage.
To learn more about blue crab management please click here.