Watermen Say Striped Bass to Blame for Low Crab Numbers - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Watermen Say Striped Bass to Blame for Low Crab Numbers

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Some of the Striped Bass caught on Larry Powley's boat Some of the Striped Bass caught on Larry Powley's boat
Courtesy: Jack Brooks.  One of the photos circulating the Internet, showing crabs found in the stomach of a Striped Bass Courtesy: Jack Brooks. One of the photos circulating the Internet, showing crabs found in the stomach of a Striped Bass

HOOPERS ISLAND, Md.- Watermen have been saying for months that striped bass, also called rockfish, have been eating crabs, and now they say they have proof.

A picture circulating the Internet since the first weekend of November shows a striped bass cut open with roughly 20 small crabs spilling out of it.

Watermen that spoke with WBOC said this is not a freak occurrence.

"That happens all the time.  Right across from here, I fish with my father in law right off the wharf, and one day we caught one that had 47, but see they're not going to advertise that because I guess the rockfish is the state fish now," said waterman Larry Powley.

Powley took this reporter out on his boat to show how many striped bass there are in the Chesapeake Bay.  He said he has to throw back most of what he catches because the quotas are too low, which leads to an overabundance of the fish.  He says striped bass will eat just about anything that moves, and since bay grasses are at a low this year due to Hurricane Sandy, the crabs have nowhere to hide.

"We have no grass no more, and the crab just lays on the bottom and gets soft, and that fish is just waiting for him to get soft enough to digest him." said Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood.

WBOC reached out to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to see if officials there believed this was why the crabs were so low in number this year. Brenda Davis, who is director of DNR's blue crab program, sent the following statement:

"There are no scientific data to support a supposition that Striped Bass predation is causing a significant depletion of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population. In fact, studies performed in Maryland and Virginia to assess the diets of striped bass indicated that blue crabs make up a small percentage of the average striped bass diet. According to an intensive study in 2000, fish, particularly Menhaden, account for 94 percent by weight of the striped bass diet. In fact, other studies have shown that cannibalism by large crabs was a major cause of juvenile crab mortality, accounting for 75 percent to 97 percent of the loss of juvenile crabs in certain locations. Juvenile crabs find protection in grass beds, which is also where striped bass and other predators find the best opportunities for catching them. Nonetheless, crab survival is best in vegetated habitats, where they can hide. Any effort to boost crab survival needs to look toward improving habitat and the protection of sea grass beds.

"There was a combination of environmental factors contributing to the high mortality of juvenile crabs in 2012 including Tropical Storm Sandy, abnormally warm and salty water, decreases in submerged aquatic vegetation coverage, a large influx of Red Drum into the Maryland portion of the bay, density-dependant mortality, and a large 2011 year class of striped bass.

We don't have a lot of data on impact of most of the factors on that list. However, we do have solid data that the Bay-wide harvest of spawning age female blue crabs has been at or below the 25.5 percent harvest target for five consecutive years.  The ability to keep harvest in the safe range puts us in a much better position than we've been in the past (specifically 1992 and 1997) with similar abundance declines." 

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