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This is an article from today's Virginian-Pilot. I thought some of you folks may like to read it.

Proposal would limit taking of blue crabs off Va. Beach
By SCOTT HARPER, The Virginian-Pilot
© March 28, 2007 | Last updated 8:47 PM Mar. 27

NEWPORT NEWS - To better protect female blue crabs ready to give birth, the state may create a 94-square-mile sanctuary off Virginia Beach in the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposal would affect waters from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay south to the North Carolina line, extending from the coastline to 3 miles offshore.

The move would ban commercial fishermen from taking extremely pregnant crabs, called sponge crabs, from June 1 to Sept. 15 each year. Such females are carrying dark-brown or black sacs on their bellies, each holding millions of eggs vital to recharging crab stocks in the Bay.

The blue crab remains one of the state's biggest seafood engines, generating millions of dollars in revenue, despite recent declines that fisheries managers have struggled to reverse.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission will vote on the measure next month, following a public hearing at its headquarters in Newport News. Scientists, conservationists and most fishing groups support the no-harvest zone.

At the same meeting next month, the commission also is expected to repeal a state ban on catching these dark-colored sponge crabs throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

The ban has been in place since 1996, but scientists last year discovered that when watermen trap the expecting mothers, then throw them back in the water, most die anyway.

Rom Lipcius, an ecologist and crab researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who headed the research, said up to 90 percent of sponge crabs perish when handled this way.

The commission was poised to vote on the measure Tuesday but delayed consideration because Lipcius wanted another month to finalize results and bring other data forward.

Lipcius has been a champion of creating sanctuaries in the lower Chesapeake to protect sagging crab populations - specifically females, which swim south to key spawning grounds in Hampton Roads.

Since 2000, Virginia has established sanctuaries in huge swaths of the Bay to give expecting mothers a better chance of reaching spawning grounds before they can be harvested. Today, the state puts 925 square miles of Bay waters off limits to crabbers from June 1 to Sept. 15.

On Tuesday, the state marine commission voted on another matter related to the crab fishery - setting an earlier start to the annual harvest season for trapping hard crabs in pots, to March 17 instead of April 1.

Watermen still may not fish on Sundays and may seek crabs only from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. from March 17 to April 30 and again from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30.

They may work from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the months of May, June, July and August, considered the prime time for taking blue crabs from the Bay.

Reach Scott Harper at (757) 446-2340 or [email protected].

Dennis
 

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At the same meeting next month, the commission also is expected to repeal a state ban on catching these dark-colored sponge crabs throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

The ban has been in place since 1996, but scientists last year discovered that when watermen trap the expecting mothers, then throw them back in the water, most die anyway.

Rom Lipcius, an ecologist and crab researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who headed the research, said up to 90 percent of sponge crabs perish when handled this way.
This is the part that bothers me. If it's legal to keep them then the potters will target them. Even if only 10% survive that's still better than 100% dead.
 
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