Following declines in both the blue crab and striped bass populations in recent years, today the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) lowered striped bass size limits and modestly increased blue crab bushel limits for some commercial watermen. The Commission will review bushel limits again later this Fall after requests from watermen and some Associate Commissioners.
Striped bass populations along the East Coast have experienced a worrisome decline. In May, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to implement an emergency action to decrease the maximum size limit to 31 inches for most striped bass fisheries in the East Coast. States have until July 2 to implement the change. Today the VMRC took action to ensure Virginia's compliance. That includes in Virginia reducing the maximum size limit for the Chesapeake Bay fall season, the Potomac River spring and fall season, and the Atlantic Coast season from 36 inches to 31 inches.
Blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay reached record low numbers last year, but the population showed some signs of improvement in the 2023 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey results released in May. In 2022 the VMRC significantly decreased bushel limits for commercial blue crab fisheries. Today the VMRC approved a modest increase in bushel limits for some commercial watermen.
In Virginia, bushel limits are set based on how large a crabbing operation is. As a result of today's action, crab limits did not increase for the smallest operations, increased by one bushel per day for medium-sized operations, and increased from 27 bushels to 36 bushels per day for the largest operations licensed to use up to 425 crab pots.
After the 2022 decrease in bushel limits, the largest crabbing operations lost the greatest percentage of their catch. Today's increase was an attempt to restore balance so that crabbing operations of all sizes lose an equitable percentage of their catch when compared to levels several years ago.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued this statement:
"Though the modest rise in the Bay's blue crab numbers this year is encouraging, numerous concerns remain about the blue crab population. Virginia and the other Bay jurisdictions should continue to manage crab harvests cautiously. The VMRC's adjustments to crab harvest bushel limits restores balance to the bushel limits adopted last year. This helps ensure more equitable harvests limits for crabbing operations of all sizes, while maintaining most of the conservation benefits adopted last year.
"Striped bass are struggling to recover in the Chesapeake Bay and along Atlantic Coast, while recreational fishing pressure has been increasing. Striped bass reproduction has been below average for the past four years in the Chesapeake Bay. The size limit decrease is a step in the right direction, requiring large fish to be released and then hopefully spawn and rebuild the population. Anglers must remain vigilant to ensure the survival of fish that are caught and released, especially in the summer months when water temperatures are high and oxygen levels are low.
"Both striped bass and blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay suffer from many of the same challenges—loss of underwater grass habitat, threats from invasive species including blue catfish, and pollution. The recovery of both blue crabs and striped bass depends on careful management of the fishery and accelerating work to improve water quality and habitat in the Bay."