Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday pointed to a new estimate of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population, saying it was more evidence of the wisdom of controversial limits imposed on harvesting in 2008.

(By Kevin Merritt)

“The crab population is coming back,” O’Malley (D) said. “Overall, we are moving forward.”

The crab, a key part of both the bay’s ecosystem and the region’s seafood economy, had been rapidly declining during the 2000s, with its population reaching a low of 249 million in 2007, the year O’Malley took office.

O’Malley said the population figure announced Tuesday, from an annual winter dredge survey, was the second-highest since 1997 and represented the third year in a row officials have exceeded their goal.

The 2008 limits, imposed by Maryland and Virginia, were aimed at at protecting more female crabs, which can produce millions of baby crabs apiece. But they initially cut deeply into the income of some watermen and seafood dealers.

O’Malley administration officials indicated Tuesday that they are looking at some additional loosening of the 2008 restrictions.