The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is scheduled to discuss a new blue crab stock assessment on Aug. 23 that shows that more female crabs than originally thought need to be left in the bay to maintain the species at a healthy abundance.
The commission is expected to vote whether to close the winter crab dredge fishery for the fourth year in a row and will discuss other crab conservation measures, as well.
According to a press release from VMRC spokesman John Bull, a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sets a new healthy-species abundance level of 215 million female crabs instead of the previous 200 million total adult crabs, with overfishing occurring if 34 percent of the female crabs are harvested in a year rather than the previous 53 percent of total adult crabs.
Regulations established to meet the previous benchmarks were based on 2005 bay-wide crab assessment data, said the release, and, although the blue crab stock has increased substantially in the wake of rebuilding efforts, it was more depleted than originally believed and will take longer to rebuild to sustainable levels than expected.
The more stringent assessments of the stock’s health will allow fishery managers to set more precise female harvest limits in order to fully rebuild the stock, said the release, adding that Virginia, Maryland and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are committed to working together to meet the new female population threshold and abundance target.