The harvest of blue crabs Callinectes sapidus in Chesapeake Bay declined 46% between 1993 and 2001 and remained low through 2008. Because the total market value of this fishery has declined by an average of US $ 3.3 million per year since 1993, the commercial fishery has been challenged to maintain profitability. We developed a bioeconomic simulation model of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery to aid managers in determining which regulations will maximize revenues while ensuring a sustainable harvest. We compared 15 different management scenarios, including those implemented by Maryland and Virginia between 2007 and 2009, that sought to reduce female crab harvest and nine others that used seasonal closures, different size regulations, or the elimination of fishing for specific market categories. Six scenarios produced the highest revenues: the 2008 and 2009 Maryland regulations, spring and fall closures for female blue crabs, and 152- and 165-mm maximum size limits for females. Our most important finding was that for each state the 2008 and 2009 scenarios that implemented early closures of the female crab fishery produced higher revenues than the 2007 scenario, in which no early female closures were implemented. We conclude that the use of maximum size limits for female crabs would not be feasible despite their potentially high revenue, given the likelihood that the soft-shell and peeler fisheries cannot be expanded beyond their current capacity and the potentially high mortality rate for culled individuals that are the incorrect size. Our model results support the current use of seasonal closures for females, which permit relatively high exploitation of males and soft-shell and peeler blue crabs (which have high prices) while keeping the female crab harvest sustainable. Further, our bioeconomic model allows for the inclusion of an economic viewpoint along with biological data when target reference points are set by managers.
Additional publication details
The bioeconomic impact of different management regulations on the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery