Year of Publication

2018

Season of Publication

Spring

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)

Department

Biology

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Eric G. Johnson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Matthew B. Ogburn, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Kelly Smith, Ph.D.

Department Chair

Cliff Ross, Ph.D.

College Dean

George Rainbolt, Ph.D.

Abstract

From 2008 to 2012, the total U.S. commercial landings of blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun, 1896) averaged over 173 million lbs. Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are important contributors to this fishery, providing greater than 30% of national commercial landings annually. In Chesapeake Bay, C. sapidus exhibits a complex life cycle in which mated females migrate to the saline waters of the Bay mouth to spawn. During migration, females can traverse multiple management jurisdictions, complicating effective management of this important fishery. Sustained declines in harvest have led to management strategies focused on protecting the female spawning stock in an attempt to enhance recruitment back into the Bay. This study presents the results of a broad scale mark-recapture study (n=7,072) in 11 Chesapeake Bay subestuaries and one coastal embayment, designed to track female migration and quantify spatial variation in exploitation rates of mature female blue crabs. Tagging was conducted in fall 2014 (September and October), when most females have matured and begin to migrate to the spawning grounds, and in summer 2015 (July), when additional females mature and migrate to the spawning grounds. Approximately 8.1% of tagged females were recaptured within one year of release. Overall, the exploitation rate of the 2015 blue crab spawning stock in Chesapeake Bay was 10.5%; however exploitation varied widely among systems (4.0-28.5%). This estimate is below both the management target and threshold exploitation rates and the population grew in subsequent years, suggesting recruitment overfishing of blue crabs was not occurring in Chesapeake Bay at this time.

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