Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab

Life in the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is a source of life for many species of both plants and animals including: the blue crabs, oysters, striped bass, horseshoe crabs and hermit crabs.Crab is prepared in restaurant and home kitchens in innumerable ways, steamed or sauteed, as Maryland Crab Cakes and Crab Imperial, or in crab soup and crab dip.

The Blue Crab

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest producer of crabs in the country. Commercial harvests in a good year can yield close to 100 million pounds of crab annually.

The Blue Crabs belong to the crustacean group, which includes shrimp, crayfish and lobsters. Crabs inhabit a wide range of the Bay waters, from the upper Bay near freshwater tributaries down to the saltier waters at the mouth of the Bay. Blue crabs are harvested using baited trotlines, dip nets, crab pots, pound nets and crab scrapes. Depending on the season, either hard-shell crabs or “soft shells” are harvested.

Horseshoe Crabs

The horseshoe crabs are arthropods, which include insects, spiders, scorpions, and crabs. The horseshoe crabs are bottom-dwelling organisms found in both estuarine and continental shelf habitats. Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs, and actually are closer in form to spiders and scorpions, because they lack antennae and mandibles.

In the Chesapeake Bay, horseshoe crabs are present year-round near the mouth and have been documented in the Eastern Bay, Rappahannock, Miles, Chester and Choptank rivers.

Horseshoe crabs were once primarily harvested for use in poultry and livestock food and fertilizers. Currently horseshoe crabs are commercially harvested for use as eel, conch, and catfish bait along the Atlantic coast.

In Virginia and Maryland, no specific laws or regulations pertain to horseshoe crabs. There is a ban on trawling within Virginia state waters, within Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays and up to one mile off the Maryland Atlantic coast. In April 1998, Maryland restricted coastal ocean harvest by 70 percent and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has proposed a 25 percent reduction in the horseshoe crab catch in every Atlantic state.

Hermit Crabs

The Chesapeake Bay hermit crabs are crustaceans live in the coastal waters and along the shores of the bay. Hermit crabs have no exoskeleton and use a borrowed shell to protect themselves. Most of the approximately hermit crab species of are marine invertebrates. When a crab has outgrown its shell it searches for a larger one, and if the new shell is not empty will use its pincer to remove the inhabitant. Then it cautiously abandons the outgrown shell for the new.

Several marine hermit crab species can be found in the Chesapeake Bay region. The most common is the long-clawed hermit, Pagurus longicarpus, which lives in snail shells and grows to about ½ inch in length and 3/8th of an inch wide.