Welcome back to the marsh!
Blue crabs are one of the most important invertebrates in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, to humans at least! They certainly live up to their scientific name of Callinectes sapidus, or beautiful tasty swimmer, and can be found throughout all brackish rivers, bays, tidal creeks, and estuaries from the Elizabeth River in the south to Baltimore in the north. Crabs may be seen swimming sideways near the surface of the water or walking around on the bottom looking for small fish or a convenient dead meal.
Blue crabs humbly begin their lives as tiny plankton, called “megalops”, and float freely, following currents and wind. As they mature, they begin to look more and more like the adults. When fully grown, the male crabs are referred to as “Jimmies” and the female crabs are referred to as “Sallies.” Jimmies can tolerate much fresher water than Sallies and may even be found as far up the James as Richmond during summer months!
Local watermen have been crabbing for centuries by placing crab pots with smelly bait in them to attract these delicious scavengers. For a time, over-fishing was a problem and limits on the amount-harvested had to be placed. However, recent surveys have shown that there are 191 million female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay as of 2019, showing an increase of 40 million from 2018!
In addition to overfishing, water quality is a real issue that blue crabs face. Large anoxic (no oxygen) “dead zones” can remove vast areas of previously suitable habitat. You can help blue crabs right from your own backyard, by pledging to be a River Hero Home. The small steps that we can take in our neighborhoods can have far reaching positive consequences and help all who enjoy this wonderful invertebrate!