RD353 - The 2012 Virginia Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan

Executive Summary:
Results from the 2012 Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey, conducted December 2011 to March 2012 by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Maryland Department of Natural Resources, indicate the blue crab stock was not overfished and overfishing did not occur in 2011. The 2011-2012 Winter Dredge Survey estimates of total abundance indicates a 66% increase in crabs of all sizes compared to the previous year’s survey. The total abundance of 764 million crabs was the highest estimate since the 1990 Winter Dredge Survey and was bolstered by the record number (587 million) of juvenile crabs. However, the number of spawning-age female crabs (97 million) was well below the long-term average for this survey.

At its November 2012 meeting the Commission closed the winter dredge fishery season for the fifth consecutive season in order to continue the protection of the spawning stock biomass but also passed a scientific study of incidental mortality that results from crab dredge gear. Four commercial crab dredge captains and their vessels will participate in the scientific gear study with staff members from the Commission and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). The study will examine incidental mortality associated with various gear configurations over different substrate type. The Commission approved the use of Marine Fishing Improvement Funds to support a December 2012 - March 2013 crab dredge gear study, designed by scientists at VIMS, with input from VMRC staff, that will provide an estimate of non-harvest (or incidental) mortality caused by crab dredge gear for future winter dredge management decisions.

At its November meeting the Commission also extended the 2012 crab pot season to December 15, 2012, and established gear-specific bushel limits for 2013 to compensate for the projected harvest. The Commission voted to restrict crab scrapes from the Albemarle and Currituck watersheds, but permitted the commercial harvest of crab pots and peeler pots because both are documented as historical gears, and there limited evidence suggesting peeler pots would cause a detrimental impact to stock juvenile fishes in the watershed. The Commission also approved the merging of two separate regulations into one, reducing regulatory complexity and establishing a uniform date of closure for all four blue crab sanctuary areas (May 16-September 15).

Virginia crab and oyster industries continue to benefit from disaster relief funds provided in 2009 by the Department of Commerce for the declared Fishery Disaster in the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fisheries. This Disaster Relief Fund has provided various crab industry members (harvesters, buyers, and processors) who experienced past financial setbacks from the very low abundance of the blue crab resource, from 1998-2008, an opportunity to work in resource or habitat enhancement projects. The total amount of funding from the Disaster Relief Fund was $14,995,000. Of the six project areas, two projects continue in 2012: the derelict crab pot and marine debris collection program, and the oyster aquaculture projects. They oyster aquaculture projects have stimulated technical advances in hatchery production which is needed for spat-on-shell projects.