Status and Management of the Blue Crab Fishery in the Gulf of Mexico

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Ocean Science and Engineering


Management of the blue crab Callinectes sapidus fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is the responsibility of the individual states under the purview of a regional management plan. States generally follow the “2-S” system of management, placing emphasis on size and sex. Despite management policies, harvest and juvenile abundances remain in decline. A significant trend toward decreasing harvest began in the early 2000s, with landings below average in 13 of the 20 years from 2000 to 2019. Since 2010, the fishery has maintained a lower but relatively stable harvest. There have been significant decreases in numbers of late-stage juveniles in fishery-independent trawl surveys, while numbers of megalopae and early juveniles have not exhibited declines. Postsettlement mortality is potentially driven by climate-related hydrological processes that structure the biotic community (predator guild) and nearshore habitats. Diversity of predators, few predation-free refuges, and a lack of seasonality in predation likely contribute to high regional mortality. Factors that influence quality and quantity of available refuge may ultimately control abundance. Although genetics data describe the population as panmictic, geographic differences in coastal climate and hydrological processes may act to structure populations. Separation of stocks according to ecozones may provide a more suitable approach to population delineation. The 2011 stock assessment divided the population into eastern and western regions based on confounding information on genetics, physiographic features that limit larval transport, variations in climate, and migration of female crabs along the west coast of Florida. There is concern that the population is undergoing Gulf of Mexico-wide changes in biomass associated with regional climate regime shifts that may alter the resiliency of the stock. Whether the shift to a more favorable climate phase would reverse the declining trends is unknown. Changes in population levels could be rapid given the high juvenile mortality and short generation time as well as the importance of climate in structuring habitat.

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North American Journal of Fisheries Management





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