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Virginia votes to end ban on winter crab dredging, frustrating conservationists

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Posted at 4:03 PM, Jul 09, 2024

BALTIMORE — A policy change in Virginia could impact your next crab feast.

For the last 16 years, pulling crabs out of the mud during the winter was banned in Maryland and Virginia then, in a 5-4 vote the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) voted to end the ban in the commonwealth.

VMRC saying in a statement, "this vote by the commission allows VMRC staff to explore the viability of a year-round crab fishery that may serve to bolster the commercial crabbing industry during times of the year where jobs are often lost."

The vote is frustrating people focused on the conservation of the blue crab population.

"This is a fishery that was closed in 2008 after a severe decline in the blue crab population that eventually resulted in the declaration of a federal fisheries disaster for our blue crab population, our fishery and our watermen," said Allison Colden the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Mainly because Virginia is where female crabs go to lay their eggs in the salty water.

"By reopening this winter dredge fishery, which harvests 96% of adult female crabs before they have the opportunity to spawn and produce the next generation of juvenile blue crabs, we are opening up the possibility again of contributing to a significant decline in the blue crab population of the Chesapeake Bay," said Colden.

The latest bay report shows the crab population is estimated to be at 317 million crabs throughout the Bay.

Edgar Bautista at Crab Connection has been selling crabs the last 15 years.

He's noticed changes in price and availability.

"10 years ago we used to have so much crabs, Maryland crabs, now we've been seeing a lot less... I would say the Maryland crabs are hurt a little bit," said Bautista.

There's no timeline given for how long Virginia will wait to determine if licenses will be given out though the MVRC meets again in September.