Virginia and Maryland officially adopt new crab harvest limits
Two weeks ago, we reported proposed stricter crab limits in Maryland, prompted by historically low numbers in the bay’s winter dredging survey.
This week, Maryland and Virginia adopted new catch limits for our precious blue crab. On Tuesday, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission extended the lower harvest limits for the spring crab pot season and also lowered the limit for the fall crab pot fishery. They haven’t changed the limits for recreational crabbers.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has made changes to Commercial and Recreational Crab Fishing. Recreational crabbers can catch a bushel of bucks a day, rather than two. And for the first time, commercial boatmen must adhere to a bushel limit for bucks from August 1 through September 30. For July and from October 1 to November 30, there is no limit for males.
The changes in both states are not too surprising given the results of the 2021-2022 winter dredge survey, which measures the abundance of crabs in all corners of the bay. The total number of crabs was 227 million, the lowest number since the survey began in 1990. And the abundance of males was also at an all-time high.
As bay bulletin reported, boatmen are going to feel the pinch of bushel limits, especially when combined with factors like sky-high fuel prices.
But conservationists are encouraged by the two states’ efforts to help the overall crab population rebound. Allison Colden, senior Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement:
“These modest changes to crab harvest limits will help ensure that harvest rates do not exceed levels that could threaten the crab population. And, for the first time ever, Maryland is imposing bushel limits on male crabs in a change that underscores the need to boost overall reproduction.
She goes on to call the fishery changes a “first step,” saying, “We also need to address the many factors threatening Chesapeake blue crabs, including poor water quality, loss of key habitats such as underwater weeds and the proliferation of blue catfish. and other invasive predators.
The Bay Foundation promotes targeted research into these factors, as well as a comprehensive new stock assessment to better understand the bay crab population and how to manage it.
-Meg Walburn Viviano