HOLLYWOOD, Md.—Both watermen and state fisheries officials are encouraged with the improved catches in both hard crabs and oysters in recent seasons; both remain cautiously optimistic that the harvest improvements mean that the Chesapeake Bay watershed's health is starting to turn around.
Tommy Zinn, president of the Calvert County Watermen's Association, said that crabs have not returned to the glory days of decades ago but the recent harvests have improved markedly.
"Some areas did real well, some not as good," Zinn told The County Times. "But on average there were more crabs available than in prior years.
"In the short term at least it's getting back to average or above average."
Zinn was also encouraged by the improved oyster harvests in past several seasons, which in recent years had given watermen an option to continue working on the water when crabs were scarce.
"Oysters are getting back to the historical level of the 1980s when guys could make a living," Zinn said. "They're doing better than when times were really slow."
The resurgence in crabs and oysters coincides, state officials say, with an increase in submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and improved dissolved oxygen levels.
"It seems like all of the investments we've made into the bay restoration efforts are paying dividends," said Stephen Schatz, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.
And DNR is reporting that SAV is back in the bay in record amounts, by about 29 percent between 2014 and 2015.
The state estimates that there is now 53,277 acres of mapped SAV in the bay, which is just shy of the 57,000-acre goal it has set for itself in 2014.
The bay grasses are crucial for providing habitat for all kinds of aquatic life; they also help improve oxygen in the water.
The state has not compiled catch numbers for the crab harvest this year but their winter dredge survey taken back in the winter showed a sharp increase in the number of juvenile crabs available.
State officials said that improvements in the crab population were across all age groups of the species; the spawning-age female stock nearly doubled rom 101 millon last year to 194 million this year.
The male stock of crabs more than doubled, according to the survey, from 44 million to 91 million.
This is the second highest level of the male portion of the species since 1995, DNR officials stated.
Dave Blazer, head of DNR Fisheries, said that last year's oyster harvest was down slightly from 2014 to 2015 season but was still strong at 350,000 bushels harvested.
He said that management of crabs, especially restrictions on the harvesting of females dating back to 2008, had a hand in catch improvements.
But there were plenty of factors that they could not control.
"Mother Nature, there are a lot of factors that have helped out," Blazer said. "That's all beneficial to the crab resource."
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