The estimated number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay fell from 323 million last year to 317 million this year, according to the annual Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.

The number of crabs is an improvement from an all-time low in 2022, but still below average. The decline is less than 2%. There are an estimated 138 million total juveniles this year, an increase from 2023′s estimated 116 million. The number of juveniles remains below average, however.

State officials characterized the overall population of crabs in the bay as “healthy.”

“However, the continued relatively low recruitment numbers warrant a closer look at our approach moving forward,” Department of Natural Resources Fishing and Boating Services Director Lynn Fegley said in a statement.

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The estimated number of spawning age female crabs for 2024 is 133 million crabs, a decrease from 152 million last year. Still, the number remains above the threshold of 72.5 million crabs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the numbers this year “lackluster.”

“While juvenile population estimates can vary greatly from year to year, it is encouraging to see a slight increase in this segment of the population,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Chris Moore said in a statement. “However, given the population estimates from this year’s survey, there remains a significant need to continue to protect adult females and critical nursery habitats, like underwater grasses, in order help ensure better numbers in the future.”

The winter dredge survey has been conducted since 1990 and is the only Chesapeake Bay-wide effort independent of fisheries to estimate the number of blue crabs in the bay. It’s conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The survey reached a record high in 1991, at an estimated 828 million crabs. A record low of 227 million was reported in 2022.

Later this year, the state’s Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee will provide guidance on how many crabs can be harvested from the bay this year.