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Winter Survey Takes Stock of the Chesapeake Bay’s Blue Crabs

At a nondescript spot in the middle of the Choptank River, the Mydra Ann slowed to a crawl. The crew aboard the crabbing boat, a mix of Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) scientists and commercial watermen, readied the gear. With a thud, the large, steel-toothed dredge met the water of the Choptank, its chain whirring along the center of the boat as the metal bars lined with netting descended to the river bottom. After a one-minute drag traveling at 3 knots, the crew pulled up the dredge and emptied its contents onto the deck. Among the leaf litter, small rocks, and chunks of ice, small crustaceans shifted groggily—juvenile blue crabs. “It’s Christmas every day,” said Chris Walstrum, a DNR natural resource biologist. “You don’t know what you’re gonna get.” Walstrum leads the department’s annual blue crab winter dredge survey, which provides an estimate of the size of the population of Maryland’s state crustacean in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. A coordinated effort between Maryland and Virginia since 1989, this survey helps assess how blue crabs are doing in the Bay and how much of the population is removed by harvest. Picking through the detritus, Heather Hayden, a DNR […]

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