Maryland blue crab could benefit from climate change

The Maryland blue crab could benefit from global warming-induced rising water temperatures, according to a study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, released Tuesday, July 30.

SOLOMONS — If the Maryland blue crab could talk, it might say, “Pump the brakes on those climate change reversal efforts.”

Resulting warmer winters in the Chesapeake Bay could keep the crustacean out and about longer each year, according to a study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

UMCES said its researchers looked at data on the Chesapeake Bay’s increasing temperatures and found that winters will be up to 50% shorter by the year 2100.

For the blue crab, this means an expected 20% increase in the species’ overwinter survival rate, the study said.

Blue crabs are known only to emerge when water temperatures reach roughly 50° F. During the colder seasons, they spend their time dormant at the bottom of the Bay, submerged in its muddy sediment.

This dormancy period, according to UMCES, will continue to shorten and could become nonexistent if climate change persists.

Professor Tom Miller of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who co-authored the study, said blue crabs are a “climate change winner.”

“We always hear about those species that are going to struggle or move [because of climate change],” Miller said. “Blue crabs are going to do better.”

The blue crab is found along the Atlantic Coast from New England to Argentina.

According to the study, a Maryland blue crab’s winter could start to resemble that of a blue crab in North Carolina, where winters are much shorter and crabs are active year-round.

Hillary Glandon, a former UMCES graduate student who helped conduct this research, confirmed that notion, saying, “In 100 years, we would expect winter for crabs in Solomons to look more like winter currently looks in southern North Carolina.”

“No winter for the crabs,” Glandon said.

Glandon explained that because crabs are cold blooded, their metabolic rate is directly related to warmer temperatures. Warmer water means they grow faster, she said.

While this may sound like a win for Maryland watermen and women, they’ll have to wait for the state to update its crabbing laws.

Crabbing in the lower Chesapeake Bay is currently prohibited from December through March.

But if the crabs become more active during those months, it may prompt the state to consider implementing a longer crabbing season.

It could be a challenge, though, because the off-season has been crucial to maintaining the crab population at sustainable levels, UMCES said.

The data UMCES used for this study has been gathered daily since 1938 from the pier at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, Md.

UMCES paleoclimatologist Hali Kilbourne said researchers couldn’t do their work without that long-term data collection.

“This study is a good example of the pay-off for all the effort that goes into climate data,” Kilbourne said. “[It] highlights the value of long-term monitoring and efforts we make to do that.”

{p class=”gmail-m_693625523069115744gmail-m_-3245136271775605722x_MsoNormal”}The full study, titled “Winter is (not) coming: warming temperatures will affect the overwinter behavior and survival of blue crab,” can be found at www.journals.plos.org. (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0219555)

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