The Blue Crab in North Carolina
North Carolina State 


Postlarval or 

Megalopal Stage Blue Crab

The Blue Crab in NC HomepageGeneral Information PageLife History of the Blue Crab Fishery Simulations Research Lesson Plans Other Resources, including Library and Internet Resources

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    The Blue Crab Fishery in North Carolina

    General Info          Harvest           Fishery Trends

    General Information

  • Blue crabs are a tasty seafood, and are consumed in crab cakes, she-crab soup, and as soft shell crabs, among others
  • Blue Crabs are North Carolina's most valuable fishery
  • Blue crabs can generate $100 million or more yearly through dockside value and processed blue crab products
  • More pounds of blue crabs are caught in North Carolina than any other seafood species
  • More North Carolinians are employed by the blue crab industry than any other fishery


    Harvesting Blue Crabs

  • 95% of blue crabs are caught with a crab pot, a baited cage that allows small crabs to escape while keeping large ones

Crab Pot, Photo courtesy of NOAA photo library

  • 89% of crabs caught are landed between May and October
  • 96% of crabs caught are hard crabs, the rest are soft or peeler crabs
  • Blue crabs are also caught recreationally, though the amount caught by recreational fisherman is unknown
  • Blue crabs must be 5" from point to point (carapace width) to be harvested; However, this size limit does not apply to mature females, soft, or peeler crabs

    Sponge crab, photo courtesy of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
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    Fisheries Trends

Before 1999
  • From 1987-1999, commercial landings continuously increased
  • In 1999, three consecutive hurricanes hit the coast of NC, causing massive flooding. Catch efficiency increased 369%.
  • Blue crabs may have been easier to catch in 1999 as a result of the flooding concentrating blue crabs to small pockets of higher salinity water

  • Overall abundance down 73% from previous 10 year average, in terms of catch per unit effort (CPUE)
  • Blue crab spawning stock catch per unit effort at historically low levels, 72% below the previous 10 year average
  • Young of the Year (YOY) catch per unit effort down 64% from previous 10 year average
  • Postlarval settlement down 84% from the 1996-1999 average

Data obtained from fishery dependent sources

  • Decrease is seen in average size of mature females (from 1996-2002)
  • An increase is seen in the proportion of extremely small mature females (from 1996-2002)

  • During 2003 spawning stock biomass returned to average levels, but declined to low levels in 2004.
  • Postlarval settlement remains low, possibly indicating that the blue crab population has not returned to pre-2000 levels.
  • More detailed information on the status of the NC blue crab opulation may be found at
  • As more information becomes available in 2005, we will better understand if the blue crab population is recovering or remaining at historically low levels.