Maryland will keep the tighter ommercial crab limits from last year, while Virginia will allow some watermen an additional daily bushel. Photo: Maryland DNR/Flickr

VA Relaxes Crab Catch Limits, MD Keeps Tighter Limits

When the results of last winter’s blue crab population survey in the Maryland and Virginia portions of Chesapeake Bay showed some encouraging results, some wondered if it would lead to increased catch limits for commercial watermen. Well, yes and no.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), which significantly cut bushel limits in the face of last year’s numbers, approved a modest increase for some commercial watermen.

At the same time, Maryland’s fisheries regulators announced last week they would stick with the catch limits set last year after record low population numbers led to sharp cutbacks. But they will allow a slight increase in the number of female crabs that could be harvested and lifted limits entirely over Labor Day weekend, when the demand increases sharply.

Genine McClair, the blue crab program manager for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reasoned that while the male crab population increased over the last year, it remains below average. At the same time, the winter dredge survey showed low numbers of juveniles for several consecutive years, she said. 

The catch limits would remain in place to “maintain a similar level of conservation as last year,” she said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Robert T. Brown Sr., president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, who complained that “Mother Nature has given us something” with the increase in crabs, but that state regulators “took it away.”

He noted that commercial operations did better than expected last year and said watermen had hoped for at least a slight increase in the bushel limits this year, given the encouraging results of the winter survey.

“It could have been worse,” he conceded, but at the same time, “we were looking for a little bit more.

In Virginia, where bushel limits are based on the size of the crabbing operation, VMRC did not allow the smallest operations any increase but granted mid-sized operators one additional bushel per day. It allowed the largest operators—those licensed to use up to 425 pots—a nine-bushel increase, from 27 to 36 bushels per day.

VMRC spokesman Zach Widgeon said the regulations “protect the entire stock but make the reductions more equitable” among the different kinds of license holders. They might “result in a slight increase in harvest in 2023,” but they will create “equitable reductions for all pot license types,” he wrote.

Chris Moore, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation scientist based in Virginia, said in a statement that the changes “help ensure more equitable harvest limits for crabbing operations of all sizes while maintaining most of the conservation benefits adopted last year.”

He warned, however, that while the “modest rise in the Bay’s blue crab number is encouraging, numerous concerns remain about the blue crab population” and that Virginia and “other Bay jurisdictions should continue to manage crab harvests cautiously.”

-Joel McCord