Hopeful sign for Chesapeake: Crabs at a high

The Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population, which sometimes seems distinctly yo-yo-ish, has blossomed this year.  Maryland's governor announced today that it increased 60 percent over last year. Notably, he made the announcement at a restaurant. (Melted butter, anyone?)

According to an Associated Press report, Gov. Martin O'Malley said a dredge survey showed the crab population is at its highest level since 1997.

Undoubtedly, crabbers are hoping this will lead to an easing of harvest restrictions.  Both Maryland and Virginia instituted regulations aimed at cutting the harvest by a third. They include shortening the season and not allowing hibernating pregnant females to be raked from the bottom.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has posted a dramatic chart showing the sharp drop in crab numbers over the past decade, and now the recent rise. The current estimate: 658 million crabs in the bay this year.

Foundation president Will Baker issued a statement acknowledging that the restrictions had been a hard decision for politicians, but that it was paying off. "This is not the end of the problem of threatened Bay species and a struggling Bay seafood industry, but it is a sign that managed the right way, the fisheries can respond and even flourish again," he said. "The right way is letting science, not politics, guide how we manage."

For more information, read Maryland's press release here, and Virginia's here.