Last Tuesday, May 26, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) held a public hearing on blue crab management. The issues voted on included dates for the crab management season (July 5, 2015 – July 4, 2016), the commercial crabbing season (March 17 – November 30), and the culling of sponge crabs (female crabs carrying eggs). The Commission voted to restrict the culling of sponge crabs from March 17 to June 15 of this year.
The commission also voted on bushel limits, agreeing to keep in place stricter limits for commercial crabbers that were enforced last summer in response to the extremely low crab population. To review, the VMRC voted in July of 2014 to reduce the harvesting of female and juvenile blue crabs by 10%, effective through July of 2015. These regulations were put into place after the 2013-2014 winter dredge survey found that only 297 million blue crabs were in the Chesapeake. From this number, there were less than 70 million female crabs of spawning age. These population numbers are low for the Chesapeake Bay. In 2012, there were 765 million blue crabs in the Bay. That number was cut by more than half in the two years that followed.
While the Bay’s blue crab population did slightly increase over the past year, to 411 million crabs, the stricter regulations have been kept in place to get crab numbers up to a healthier level, closer to the 765 million-population number of 2012.
Again, as last year, I would like to see the VMRC put harsher regulations in place for the culling of sponge crabs, making it illegal altogether for commercial crabbers to harvest female crabs carrying eggs, not just during a certain time period. In addition I would like to see Virginia restrict winter dredging of blue crabs for harvest. The VMRC agreed to put off a vote on winter dredging until later this fall. The VMRC has voted to restrict this activity over the past couple of years and hopefully will do so again. Winter dredging poses risks to the blue crab population, and is permanently restricted in the neighboring state of Maryland for this reason.
To see the Commission Meeting Summary from last Tuesday, please check out the VMRC link here: http://www.mrc.virginia.gov/Commission_Summaries/cs0515.shtm.