Feasibility Study to Assess a Seasonal Blue Crab Fishery in Historically Closed South Carolina Waters
This project aims to explore the feasibility of seasonal blue crab fishing in waters historically closed, weighing economic benefits to commercial fishermen against any environmental impact, by recording data on catch, bycatch, and exvessel values. This project—which will include measuring crabs and tagging and releasing 200 mature females and 200 large males—might also contribute to data currently being collected as part of the SCBCRABS and/or be used to influence measures under consideration by state lawmakers.
The project has three objectives:
- Explore the feasibility of seasonal blue crab fishing in waters west of the saltwater-freshwater borderline currently closed to crabbing, particularly in the Combahee River and Ashepoo River. A drought in 1998-2002 changed the salinity levels in estuaries and caused blue crabs to flee traditional fishing grounds, which forced commercial fisheries into fierce competition for space near the legal fishing line. State lawmakers, searching for ways to preserve the blue crab population while also protecting the economic interests of commercial fisheries, have considered implementing an experimental trotline fishery in designated areas during times of drought. However, there is little data to indicate whether opening these waters might have a detrimental effect on blue crab stocks or would allow financial relief to struggling fisheries. This project aims to gather economic and environmental data that might enable the SCDNR to advise lawmakers on future legislation.
- The project also proposes to add to data being gathered for the SCBCRABS project. As stated in the Inside Sea Grant newsletter (Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2006): "Carolina’s blue crab, which supports a $5-million-dollar commercial fishery, can be one of the most difficult species to manage." S.C. Sea Grant scientists are developing a computer model to help manage the blue crab fishery in South Carolina in an effort to "determine the impact of changes in water quality and fishing pressure on blue crab populations." By recording catches and exvessel prices, measuring crabs, and tagging and releasing 200 mature female blue crabs and 200 large males, this project will provide important data.
- The blue crab population is one of the most valuable commercial species but, because of its complicated life cycle and migration habits, also one of the hardest to manage. The Marine Resources Division of the SCDNR, charged with monitoring blue crab populations and providing management of the blue crab as a sustainable fishery, must use every resource available to analyze population trends and life history patterns, gather data on size, growth and abundance, and collect commercial landings data. This project would surely add to existing data.