By Kouichi Shirayanagi
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The summer crab season has begun on the mid-Atlantic seaboard and supplies of the crustaceans in the largest U.S. estuary are improving, according to a survey, meaning crab lovers will enjoy bountiful feasts.
A study released by the Chesapeake Bay Program this week said the "blue crab" population in the bay is growing, though numbers are below healthy target levels.
State and federal agencies have been monitoring a variety of environmental problems in the bay that are thought to have hurt wildlife, resulting in higher water temperatures. The report did not draw conclusions on the reason for the current uptick in crab populations.
The total population of blue crabs increased from 411 million in 2015 to 553 million in 2016, according to the survey. The population peaked at around 800 million in the 1990s and in 2012, it said.
"It is encouraging to see adult females rebound from a depleted state only two years ago," said Glenn Davis of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Bob Higgins, owner of Higgins Crab House North in Ocean City, Maryland, said the rising crab population has allowed him to offer his customers "heavier, larger crabs - the type most in demand."
Higgins, in the business for 50 years, said he expects to sell 565 bushels of crabs over the July 4th weekend.
(Reporting by Kouichi Shirayanagi; Editing by Dan Grebler)