As my colleague Chuck Epes wrote earlier this week, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs are once again in troubled waters. The catch was poor this summer. And the number of juvenile crabs estimated this past winter was 80 percent lower than the winter before. The number of spawning-age females was up, but still at levels far below what managers consider ideal.
Despite the unstable situation with the Bay’s iconic species, Virginia is considering re-opening its waters to dredging for crabs in the winter, which the commonwealth has banned since 2008. The ban was instituted as part of a joint effort with Maryland to boost crab reproduction by help the survival of female crabs carrying fertilized eggs. Dredges are rake-like devices with nets that are dragged along the bottom to scoop up crabs (often females, in the southern Bay during the winter) while they hibernate.
A vote by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on a possible re-opening of the winter dredge season is scheduled for Tuesday.
John Bull, a spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said that Virginia law requires VMRC to reconsider and reapprove the ban every year. “There has been a vocal number of commercial crabbers who have been adamant that we reopen this winter dredge fishery,” Bull said. “It’s an old fishery –- it’s been around for 100 years. We only closed it annually since 2008. And these dredgers have been pushing us for a number of years here to reopen it. They feel like they were unfairly singled out.”