Recent vote reopens Va winter blue crab harvest after 15-year closure despite concerns

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Virginia state regulators with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted to reopen the winter harvesting season for blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay in a 5-4 vote on Tuesday, ending a 15-year closure.

In 2008, declines in the blue crab population led to a fishery disaster declaration in which multiple conservation measures were enacted to improve the population, including closing the winter dredge fishery.

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The vote comes after the Blue Crab Management Advisory Committee voted on May 29 to support the reopening of the winter dredge season.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) raised concerns about the decisionstating it could further deplete the female blue crab population.

According to a 2024 study from the VMRCthe adult female crab population decreased from 152 million to 133 million in 2023, and almost 20 million decrease in blue crab numbers.

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The CBF states the winter dredge season, which would extend the crabbing season beyond December, involves the process of scraping the crabs from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay while they are semi-dormant throughout the winter season.

Currently, crabbing is only allowed between the months of March and December.

The CBF’s Virginia Executive Director, Chris Moore, released a statement following the vote, which can be read in full below:

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 recognizes 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 in 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 vital species.”

Chris Moore

The VMRC is expected to decide the parameters of the newly reopened winter dredge season in September.

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