Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus, Rathbun 1896) were sampled with commercial crab pots on Shell Bar oyster reef in the Great Wicomico River, VA, from May through October during 2006 and 2007. Weekly catch per unit effort (CPUE), sex ratio, and size (carapace width, measured in millimeters) were evaluated in the context of water temperature (measured in degrees Celsius), salinity, and daylength (measured in hours) conditions on the reef. The total number of crabs collected in 2006 and 2007 was 5,221 and 3,303, respectively. Blue crab CPUE was highest from mid-June through mid-September at water temperatures at or more than 26°C, with maximum CPUEs observed in late July. The overall annual ratio of females to males was 0.47 in 2006 and 0.60 in 2007. Males made up more than 50% of the catch at Shell Bar reef from May through August. The observed sex ratio shifted from male dominated to female dominated as salinity increased, whereas water temperature and daylength decreased seasonally. Female crabs (median carapace width (CW), 142–144 mm) were approximately 20 mm in CW larger than males (median CW, 125 mm) in both years. Annual average CPUE (13.42 crabs per pot; SE = 1.57) and maximum CPUE (32.06 crabs per pot) was twice as high in 2006 as it was in 2007. The observed interannual differences in crab CPUEs may be the result of an enhanced forage base on the reef in 2006 relative to 2007. Approximately 9 million cultchless oysters (40–80 mm in shell height) were planted on Shell Bar reef between May and October 2006 as part of a concurrent oyster rehabilitation program.
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Vol. 29 • No. 4