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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 321:215-225 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps321215

Assessing effectiveness of the blue crab spawning stock sanctuary in Chesapeake Bay using tag-return methodology

Debra M. Lambert, Romuald N. Lipcius*, John M. Hoenig

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary, PO Box 1346, Gloucester Point, Virginia 23062, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The blue crab spawning stock in Chesapeake Bay sustained a severe and persistent decline beginning in 1992. As part of the effort to enhance the spawning stock, the spawning sanctuary in lower Chesapeake Bay was enlarged to over 240000 ha. This marine reserve and corridor prohibits exploitation of mature females en route to or in the spawning grounds during the summer spawning season (1 June to 15 September). To assess the effectiveness of the sanctuary, we tagged terminally molted, mature females inside and outside the sanctuary during 3 sanctuary seasons (2002 to 2004). Crabs were captured throughout the bay and its tributaries, measured, tagged, and released on site. Recaptures of tagged crabs were reported by commercial and recreational fishers. Probability of recapture for crabs released outside the sanctuary was 6.3, 5.2, and 2.8 times the probability of recapture for crabs tagged inside the sanctuary in 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. Consequently, a significant proportion of adult female blue crabs remains in the sanctuary to spawn and is not captured by the fishery. Hence, the marine reserve and corridor for the blue crab spawning stock in Chesapeake Bay is an effective means of protecting females migrating to or residing in the spawning grounds. This investigation serves as one of the few empirical tests to date of the effectiveness of a marine reserve designed to protect spawning stock.

KEY WORDS:Blue crab · Callinectes sapidus · Spawning sanctuary · Marine reserve · Tag-return

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