Blue Crabs in Chesapeake Benefitting From Climate Change

A study published in late July found that because climate change will shave a few weeks off winters in the mid-Atlantic, baby crabs will stand a better chance of surviving the colder season since food will be available to them sooner and thus they are less likely to starve. The Chesapeake Bay’s waters are expected to become as warm as those in Newport News, Virginia or even the Outer Banks of North Carolina and as they do, the researchers estimate that nearly 100% of the juvenile crabs will make it through the winter months, according to The Washington Post, which is good news for the fishery worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Why This Matters: This study demonstrates the climate phenomenon that some species will fare better than others in warming scenarios, but that still may require strong management for the blue crab fishery to ensure it remains sustainably fished. And there is also concern about other “winners” like crab predators that will relocate from the south or the flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in warm brackish water that we reported on in July, and “losers” like the clams that are a major food source for the crabs.   So we shouldn’t go “counting our crabs before they hatch” just yet.

Crabs Already Making a Comeback

  • The research points to increases in the crab population starting in about 20 years if warming continues as it has – they studied water temperature records over the last 100 years to gauge the warming trajectory.
  • This year’s survey of the Bay’s population showed that the number was more than 600 million most likely because of improvements in water quality and reductions in overfishing.
  • The population was down to only about 250 million about 12 years ago, so it rebounded quickly.
  • Even with a robust supply, The Washington Post also reported that the price of crabs remains high because many of them are not old enough to catch or are females that are thrown back so they can reproduce.
  • Strong management is keeping overfishing from occurring, which also holds the prices steady and relatively high.

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