Alternate Title

Seasonal Distribution and Abundance of Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) in the Tampa Bay Estuary


Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus (Rathbun)) are commercially important and are an integral part of the estuarine ecosystem as both predators and prey. Although adult blue crabs have been the focus of many studies, there is little published information on immature blue crab abundances, especially on the west Florida coast. The objectives of this study were to analyze the distributions and abundances of immature and adult blue crabs in the Tampa Bay estuary, specifically as they relate to 1) monthly and yearly trends in abundance and size, 2) timing of recruitment to the estuary, 3) sex- and size-determined distribution patterns, and 4) the influence of environmental factors, such as freshwater input. Catch rates, length frequencies, and indices of abundance were calculated for recruiting [≤20-mm carapace widths (CW)], juvenile (21–80-mm CW), and adult (>80-mm CW) blue crabs caught during 1996 and 1997. Abundances of all size classes of blue crabs differed by region and month; juvenile and adult abundances were also significantly related to salinity. Immature crabs were collected in all months, confirming an extended spawning season, but there were elevated catches of recruiting blue crabs in February and September. Adults were caught year-round, with males generally being more abundant than females. Geographical regions close to the mouth of the bay had the highest densities of recruits, perhaps because of the supply of larvae being delivered to that area from offshore. With the use of monthly seine and river trawl data from an extended time period (1996–2004), annual variations in the abundance of immature and adult blue crabs were examined. A decline in the abundance of immature crabs collected in 21.3-m seines began after 1998, with a significant low occurring in 2002. A similar pattern was observed for adults collected in river trawls and by commercial fisheries. Unfavorable salinity regimes during this time period may have contributed to these abundance trends.