Stock Status - Concern - Increased concern, for the health of the stock and fishery, is due to reduced landings of hard blue crabs during 2000-2002 and 2004-2006, following record-high landings observed during 1996–1999. N.C. State University researchers have estimated maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for blue crabs to be between 26 million pounds and 52 million pounds per year. However, it is felt that these MSY estimates are not valid, based on data and modeling limitations and the significant influence of environmental variables on the population. Due to data and modeling limitations, these MSY estimates should be used as a guideline to the long-term potential of the fishery, rather than as strict targets. However, the modeling results do indicate that the blue crab stock is currently at a low biomass level, and current fishing pressure exceeds levels required to achieve MSY, leading to reduced yield. None of the assessment results suggest the high landings experienced during the late 1990s would be sustainable. The resource will be considered overfished, when annual landings decline for five consecutive years.
Average Commercial Landings and Value 1997-2006 – 41,390,664 lbs./ $32,218,814
2006 Commercial Landings and Value – 25,309,539 lbs./ $17,065,193
Recreational Landings for 2006 – 94,348 lbs. (Recreational Commercial Gear License Survey)
Status of Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) – North Carolina FMP adopted by the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission in December 1998. The first revision to the FMP was completed in December 2004.
Research and Data Needs - Research and data needs are listed in the revised 2004 FMP.
Current Regulations (2007) - 5 inches from tip of spike to tip of spike, for male and immature female hard crabs. For crabs less than the minimum size, a tolerance of not more than 10% by number in any container shall be allowed. Mature females, soft and peeler crabs, and male crabs (March 1- October 31) to be used as peeler bait are exempt from the minimum size limit. Seasonal Maximum Size Limit - When the spawning stock is determined by fishery independent surveys to be abnormally low, the Director may prohibit the harvest of mature female blue crabs greater than 6¾ inches (5% tolerance) and female peeler crabs greater than 5¼ inches from September 1 through April 30. This maximum size limit was enacted for the first time in January 2006.
Harvest Season - Open year round.
Size and Age at Maturity - 5-6 inches/12-18 months
Historical and Current Maximum Age - 5-8 years/2-3 years
Juvenile Abundance Index - 7.29 crabs (size = 0-60mm) per minute for the 1987-1998 juvenile trawl survey (unvalidated). Juvenile Index for 2005 and 2006 were 6.5 and 6.3. Despite variability in abundance, there is no general downward or upward trend in recruitment.
Habits and Habitats - Migration and movement among various habitats are seasonal, depending on life stage, sex, maturity, and associated salinity preferences. Many different habitats are used during migrations from high-salinity ocean waters to the lower-salinity and freshwaters of the coastal sounds, rivers, and creeks.
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