Crab licenses on hold
Virginia will keep the cap on watermen's licenses in place for another three years to protect the fragile blue crab population.
By PATRICK LYNCH
| 247-4534 November 29, 2007
Crabbers won't be able to get new licenses in Virginia until at least 2011, after Virginia officials extended a moratorium intended to help protect the worrisome downward trend of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab stock.
Capping the number of licensed crabbers controls the fishing pressure on the crab population, which has struggled in the past 15 years but still brings in an estimated $21million at docksides in Virginia. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission on Tuesday extended the cap on the number of licenses through 2010.
Watermen can transfer licenses, but no new licenses have been issued since the moratorium was created in 1999. The measure is a simple effort to avoid over-harvesting. But even with that, and other measures, VMRC board members expressed concern Tuesday about the state of the blue crab.
"In six of the last nine years, overfishing has occurred," said VMRC board member Rick Robins, referring to a statistical breakdown of the bay-wide crab catch. "We're dealing with a resource that's not doing well."
Both harvests and surveys indicate that the number of crabs, particularly spawning females, has declined since the mid-1990s. This year's bay-wide catch is expected to be just 48.7 million pounds, making it one of the smallest since 1945.
In Virginia, 1,734 watermen have licenses to set crab pots, 929 are licensed for peeler pots and 1,559 are licensed for crab traps.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration panel with officials from Virginia and Maryland this fall recommended that the overall set of blue crab fishing regulations needs to be revisited to better protect the species.
The VMRC has also put together its own group of scientists to review Virginia's blue crab protections and possibly offer new ideas that would give the crab a better footing to rebuild its population.
Blue crab dip
Estimated number of crabs in the Chesapeake Bay in 1990.
Estimated number of crabs
in the bay in 2006.