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Virginia Marine Resources Commission votes to repeal regulation prohibiting blue crab dredging

Posted on July 1, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a pivotal decision, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted 5-4 this week to repeal a longstanding regulation governing commercial crabbing in Virginia waters. This move could pave the way for the reintroduction of crab dredging during the winter months, a practice that has been restricted since 2008.

Zach Widgeon, spokesperson for the VMRC, explained that the regulation was originally implemented due to shrinking crab populations in 2008. It restricted crab dredging between December and March annually, subject to yearly review by the commission. However, this recent vote signals a shift in policy, opening up discussions on potentially allowing limited winter dredging once again.

“It was a very split decision, it’s a very complicated subject to vote on,” Widgeon said. “The VMRC’s Board of Commissioners has said now, ‘We’re willing to hear what all the options are.’”

The decision hinges on managing crab harvest levels through bushel limits, aiming to sustainably estimate and regulate the harvest without endangering crab populations. Supporters of the regulation repeal argue that allowing controlled dredging could aid in better understanding and managing crab stocks.

However, not everyone is in favor of this potential change. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has voiced strong opposition, citing concerns that winter dredging could adversely affect the female blue crab population and jeopardize the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem, issuing the following statement:

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s decision to reopen the winter crab season this year puts the prospect of a healthy blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay in jeopardy. It is incredibly disappointing. The VMRC’s vote imperils not only the vulnerable blue crab, but the sustainability of harvests throughout the year and other species in the Bay that depend on the blue crab for food.

The best available science calls for continuing a precautionary approach for female blue crabs, not an increase in harvest during the winter months. Overwintering adult females are an important segment of the population that help ensure sustainable blue crab numbers and support other harvests throughout the year. In addition to declines in female crab numbers, the annual survey results showed a low number of male crabs, and persistently below-average numbers of young crabs.

Adding this new harvest while an assessment of the blue crab population is ongoing is ill-advised. Virginia needs to maintain a precautionary approach for the sake of all crabbers and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, not take an avoidable risk with a vital species.


“When you have a topic like winter dredging, there’s going to be a lot of contention,” Widgeon said. “Everyone wants to see the crab population grow, but not everyone agrees on the best way to achieve that goal.”

VMRC plans to review extensive data in September to inform its final decision on blue crab dredging specifics for the coming seasons. In recent assessments, the last dredge survey found 317 million blue crabs, slightly down from 323 million the previous year.

This contentious issue underscores the balancing act between economic interests and environmental conservation in Virginia’s seafood industry, as stakeholders await further deliberations by VMRC in the coming months.

Widgeon says this repeal opens the door to discussing opening crab dredging beyond just winter months.

“Virginia has been interested in, for years, exploring a year-round fishery to even out the pressure felt by the crabbing industry throughout the year,” Widgeon said.


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