Blue Crab Ecology

Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) comprise the most valuable remaining fishery in Chesapeake Bay, yet the stock has undergone an 85% decline since 1990.

Anson Hines/Senior Scientist
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

PO Box 28
Edgewater, Maryland 21037
Phone: 443-482-2208
Fax: 443-482-2380
Curriculum Vitae


Blue crabs also are major predators of benthic communities in Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries of eastern North America, and regulate infaunal community structure. Blue crabs are characterized by a complex migratory life cycle that is typical of many estuarine species, which have life stages that shift among habitats along the salinity gradient. Our research program has studied the ecology of blue crabs as a model for improved fishery management, for predator-prey interactions, and for estuarine species with life-stage dependent use of habitats. In addition to measures of long-term population dynamics in the Rhode River subestuary, we have several active research projects on blue crab ecology:


Freya releasing tagged mature female blue crabs
Impacts of Derelict Fishing Gear 
Losing fishing gear is an unavoidable part of being a commericla fisherman.  Some studies suggest that derelict fishing gear can continue to catch organisms after its been lost beneath the waters, a phenomenon known as "ghost fishing".  We are looking into the impacts of lost and derelict blue crab pots ("ghost pots") in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay.  Specifically, we are interested in ways to reduce the amount of ghost fishing that occurs by blue crab pots. click here to learn more>>

releasing tagged hatchery blue crabsStock Enhancement
We are testing the feasibility of rearing juvenile blue crabs using hatchery technology for release into Chesapeake Bay to restore the recruitment-limited spawning stock. The research also investigates a wide range of basic biology of blue crabs. This project is funded by NOAA's Chesapeake Bay fishery stock program, and is conducted in collaboration with colleagues at the Center of Marine Biotechnology, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and North Carolina State University. click here to learn more>>

Freya releasing tagged mature female blue crabs
Migration of Female Blue Crabs
After maturation and mating, female blue crabs migrate from lower salinity nursery habitats to high salinity areas near the mouths of estuaries to incubate and hatch their eggs. In Chesapeake Bay, the migration traverses distances up to 200 km. We are investigating the timing, route and behavioral mechanism of this migration. The project is conducted in collaboration with North Carolina State University and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and with funding from NSF, Maryland Sea Grant and the NOAA Essential Fisheries Habitat program. click here to learn more>>

diseccted mature female blue crabReproductive Biology of Blue Crabs
Many aspects of blue crab reproduction are poorly understood or unknown. We have focused on mating behavior, control of maturation and gamete production, brood production sequences, fecundity, and evidence of sperm limitation. click here to learn more>>

frozen Rhode River
Winter Mortality of Chesapeake Blue Crabs
Chesapeake Bay is near the northern limit of geographic distribution of blue crabs, which have their evolutionary origin in the tropics. Cold temperatures, especially at low salinities, appear to be significant sources of mortality for blue crabs as they over-winter in deeper waters along the axis of the Bay. This project is funded by Maryland Sea Grant. click here to learn more>>

juvenile telemetry tagHabitat Partitioning by Blue Crabs
Blue crabs partition the estuarine habitat by life stage, size, gender and molt stage. Using a variety of innovative approaches (including biotelemetry), we study blue crab larval settlement dynamics and sites, juvenile movement and use of nursery and refuge habitats, adult crab use of foraging habitats, molting habitats, mating habitats, migration habitats, over-wintering habitats, and brood production habitats. click here to learn more>


Blue Crab Research Highlights:



Washington Post article on blue crab Stock Enhancement