Chesapeake Bay report card finds improving crab populations, grass growth

A barometer of the Chesapeake Bay's health is showing gradual improvement.

Multistate efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are starting to pay off, with a surge in blue crab populations, growth of underwater grasses and improvements in water quality, according to a bay report card released Tuesday.

There were 101 million female blue crabs in the bay last year, 50 percent more than in 2014, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual “Bay Barometer.” Underwater grasses covered nearly 76,000 acres in 2014, 41 percent more than in 2013, the report found, and officials estimate that nitrogen pollution flowing into the bay fell by 6 percent between 2009 and 2014.

The program’s leader said the improvements are the result of broad efforts to clean up the bay, including a 2010 directive from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting nitrogen runoff and a 2014 agreement between six states and the District of Columbia across the bay watershed to set goals for bay health measures.

“We’re opeating more as a collective unit than we have in the past. I think that’s going to be a huge benefit,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the bay program, on a conference call with reporters. “Now I think were starting to see the response and I think that will lead to continued improvement.”

But those goals remain elusive. The agreement set a target of at least 215,000 adult female blue crabs to ensure a sustainable population, more than twice current levels. And the bay is also less than halfway to a goal of containing 185,000 acres of underwater grasses.

The bay has met a third of the water quality standards the EPA set in 2010 in establishing a pollution “diet” that is known as the total maximum daily load, according to the report.

“There’s still work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction,” said Bruce Vogt, ecosystem science and synthesis manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay office.

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