Working with watermen to restore vital Chesapeake Bay fisheries

Blue Crab

Roughly 200 miles long with a watershed covering more than 64,000 square miles, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America. Serving as one of the first fishing ports in the United States, people have fished from the bay for more than one thousand years.

The complex Chesapeake ecosystem is home to an impressive diversity of habitats, plants and animals. Some 350 species of fish and shellfish use the bay for a portion of their lifecycles. Managing the bay’s fisheries for both environmental and economic sustainability is a critical step toward protecting the important role these fish populations play within the bay’s complex ecosystem.

EDF is working to help watermen and local governments achieve sustainable management for two such fisheries—blue crab and striped bass.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs

Blue crab is one of the largest and most valuable fisheries in Maryland and Virginia: roughly 80 million pounds of crab are caught annually. Unfortunately, poor management, limited data and little accountability have all contributed to an unstable fishery.

Source: Maryland DNR

The right tools

Working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, EDF is helping watermen pilot a digital monitoring system that uses smartphones and tablets to increase verifiable, real-time catch data.

This allows watermen to make in-season changes and adjustments on the fly.

Maryland Striped Bass

In the striped bass fishery, Virginia’s fishermen have long enjoyed the benefits of a catch share program, in place since 1998. The business and sustainability dividends of the Virginia program stood in contrast with the derby fishery for striped bass in Maryland, which too often led to poor economic and conservation outcomes, and encouraged illegal poaching and conflicts between commercial and recreational fishermen.

Fortunately, Maryland designed and implemented a catch share program for its own commercial striped bass fishery in January 2014. Already, the clear benefits of this type of management are being realized.