Blue Crabs are the basis for a commercially valuable fishery in many regions, but as with so many other fisheries, overexploitation has been a major problem. The Chesapeake Bay has traditionally been one of North America’s most productive fishing grounds, supporting the world’s largest Blue Crab fishery. However, sustained fishing mortality and environmental deterioration led to an ∼70% decrease in Blue Crab abundance in Chesapeake Bay during the last decade of the 20th century and first few years of the 21st, from an estimated 900 million crabs down to ∼300 million, with 45–55% of those crabs harvested annually. Even more alarming, studied have found that spawning stock abundance and biomass in Chesapeake Bay declined by 81% and 84%, respectively, around this same period. Consequently, the Blue Crab fishery, which in the early 1990s was a 52,000-ton, $72-million industry, declined to a 28,000-ton, $61-million harvest in 2004. A multidisciplinary, multi-institutional program was developed to study the basic biology and life cycle of the Blue Crab, develop hatchery and nursery technologies for mass production of blue crab juveniles, and assess the potential of using cultured juveniles to enhance Blue Crab breeding stocks and, in turn, bay-wide abundance and harvests. Basic biology and culture studies yielded methods to mass produce larvae and juvenile Blue Crabs in captivity. Juvenile crabs have been produced year-round, with excellent survival. During 2002–2006, over 290,000 cultured crabs were tagged and experimentally released into the bay’s nursery habitats. Cultured crabs survived as well as their wild counterparts, increased local populations at release sites by 50–250%, grew quickly to sexual maturity, mated, and migrated from the release sites to spawning grounds, contributing to the breeding stock as soon as 5 to 6 months post-release. (Zohar et al. 2008 and references therein) Despite their enthusiasm and optimism regarding stock replenishment efforts, Zohar et al. (2008) emphasize their view that in addition to mass rearing and releasing of Blue Crab juveniles, successfully restoring Blue Crab populations will require the integration of adequate management strategies to protect the wild and released animals until sexual maturity and spawning, with fishery and seafood industry, policymakers, environmental activists, and scientists all working together.
Paolisso (2007) explored the evolving role of the Blue Crab in the human culture around the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
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