For Immediate Release: August 14,2014
Virginia Watermen Propose New Response to
Chesapeake Blue Crab Crisis, Including Better Harvest Accountability
Watermen Call on Regulators to Consider Recommendations to Address Unsustainable Levels of Blue Crabs
Newport News, Va. – The Virginia Blue Crab Industry Panel, a volunteer-led group of commercial watermen tasked by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to find long-term solutions for the crabbing industry, are calling on the agency to implement new measures that would significantly change – and strengthen – blue crab management in the state. Its recommendations include a pilot program assigning individual harvest limits to watermen based on the total number of crabs that can be safely harvested from the Chesapeake Bay. The program would also set binding overall catch limits and create better accountability by requiring daily harvest reporting.
The panel is seeking formal consideration of its recommendations.
“Virginia needs a new approach if we want to save this fishery from the point of no return. In the face of numerous management actions over the past two decades, the blue crab population is once again on the brink of disaster,” said Bill Mullis, chair of the Virginia Blue Crab Industry Panel and owner of Newport News-based B&C Seafood. “We call upon VMRC to consider these innovative recommendations. It’s time for Virginia to protect blue crabs and our watermen – before it is too late.”
The total crab population in the Chesapeake Bay is back at the same low levels found in 2008, when the federal government declared the situation a “commercial fishery failure.” The total crab population is among the lowest levels since 1990, according to the latest blue crab winter dredge survey, and the number of mature female crabs falls one million short of the bare minimum scientists say is needed to sustain the population.
The watermen say that while humans may have limited control over the weather, predators or other natural variables that threaten blue crabs each year, the one variable humans can control is how we manage this fishery.
“Since 1994, with regulation after regulation, we’ve still got less crabs than we ever had,” said Ken Smith, president of the Virginia Waterman’s Association and a member of the panel. “Instead of fishing for everything that swims and trying to catch maximum limits, give watermen an annual limit and we will fish when the profit margin is the greatest. Let us fish for dollars, not volume.”
The panel’s proposal is based on guidance from the commission and includes four key recommendations:
- Creation of a new pilot program that assigns individual harvest limits to watermen instead of restricting seasons, daily catches or gear.
- More accountability by modernizing the online harvest reporting system and verifying catches to get more timely and accurate data.
- Better science about crab mortality, predators and recreational crab harvests.
- Analysis of the costs and benefits of existing and potential future blue crab regulations to ensure measures are economically sound.
The pilot program proposed by the panel is based on a model that has proven successful for other fisheries, including rockfish, and also mirrors recommendations made by state officials and scientists in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report. The pilot program would create better incentives for watermen to fish when the profit margin is greatest and not fish for less expensive young and female crabs that are important for strengthening the crab population.
“Allow us to fish smarter, not harder,” said Mullis. “The population can still rebound – if we change our long-term approach to managing blue crabs. With better management, we can have a sustainable blue crab fishery that makes sure consumers have locally caught, affordable Chesapeake Bay blue crabs for years to come.”
In June, VMRC cut the harvest limit of crabs by 10 percent, but watermen say such a measure fails to consider the long-term outcomes.
“We need more than Band-Aid fixes,” said Smith. “We need credible, responsible long-term solutions, and that is what our panel is focused on. This will also make our work to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay more effective.”
The Virginia Blue Crab Industry Panel is a volunteer-led group of commercial watermen created to advise the Virginia Marine Resources Commission on effective long-term solutions for the crabbing industry. With 15 members from across Coastal Virginia, the panel is dedicated to ensuring the protection of the state’s blue crab fishery, which accounts for nearly $30 million in annual revenue. For more information, visit www.vacrabbers.com.