The Panel believes that the blue crab fishery is in trouble and needs a new direction in how it is managed. We have released a series of recommendations that we believe would greatly benefit crabbers and blue crabs. Our list includes new effort controls, increased accountability measures, and research on mortality from other sources.
The Panel meets again on Sunday, May 3 at the Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown. Our meetings are from 1-5pm. As always, we welcome participation from all working watermen interested in preserving the blue crab industry in Virginia.
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.
The results of the annual blue crab winter dredge survey (WDS) are in and they are not good news. The WDS estimates that while the total population of crabs is roughly the same as last year (around 31 Million), there are significantly fewer large crabs of both sexes. The number of juvenile crabs (those under 2.4″) has increased to 20.4 million from last year’s estimate of 11.3 million. To see how the most recent WDS findings compare to other surveys since 1990, view the full Winter Dredge Survey Density Results.
The Bay Journal released an article on November 6,2013 regarding the state of Chesapeake Bay blue crab populations titled The Mystery of the Missing Blue Crabs. Author Karl Blankenship describes the unpredictable changes in blue crab stock we’ve seen over the past couple decades. These fluctuation were especially prominent over the past 3 years, when stock predictions went from the highest recorded in 20 years to nearly the lowest.
Blankenship interviews various scientists (such as the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Bay Biological Laboratory, NOAA, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center), members of VMRC’s Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, and Jack Brooks (seafood processor from J.M. Clayton Company) in order to get to the bottom of this incredibly complex issue. They discuss factors such as predation, cannibalism, habitat degradation, climate change, and predicting populations based on limited data.
You can read this article on The Bay Journal’s website.
Members of Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel visited Tangier Island to discuss Electronic Harvest Reporting. This followed two similar meetings on this topic held in Glenns and Melfa. VMRC’s online system for reporting your daily harvest provides watermen with easy access to their own past harvest history. Watermen using the system say that it is easier and faster than the paper reports. It currently takes VMRC 3-4 months to process the traditional paper forms, meaning they are making management decisions on old information. The Panel’s Electronic Harvest Reporting webpage has more information on this project, including a visual How To Get Started Guide, a video demonstration of using the system, and a list of Frequently Asked Questions.
We encourage you to try out this system and let us know what you think. This project allows us an opportunity to work with VMRC and make recommendations on how to make this system easier or better for you to use.
This project is supported through Virginia Sea Grant’s Fishery Resource Grant Program.
If you’re not already using the online reporting system you should start!
Imagine spending less time reporting harvests, having easy access to past reports, and of course, no more paper reporting!
For more information, check out our Informational Flyer
Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel is hosting a series of outreach meetings around the state to introduce ourselves, the Panel’s objectives, and hear from you. These meetings are your opportunity to help shape the future of the industry. Please let us know if you are planning to attend by responding to the meeting leads listed below.
The first two meetings are:
April 2nd, 6-8 pm in Poquoson Virginia. This meeting will be held at Anna’s Pizza at 464 Wythe Creek Road. Please RSVP to Ty Farrington at (757) 344-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org
April 9th, 6-8 pm in Cape Charles. This meeting will be held at The Shanty at 33 Marina Road. Please RSVP to Mark Sanford at (757) 263-7599 or email@example.com
Dinner will be provided for licensed crabbers.
Virginia’s crabbers are stewards of the Bay’s blue crabs. Their current and future livelihood depends on healthy crab populations. Watermen are volunteering their time to lead Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Panel. The Panel is meeting monthly to develop a strategy for managing blue crabs in Virginia. These meetings are open to the public and we encourage all Virginia watermen and interested community members to attend our meetings.
This website provides information for and about our Panel. We welcome your feedback.