Virginia Opens Winter Blue Crab Harvest Despite Opposition

Ending 15-Year Winter Harvest Closure Imperils Vulnerable Species

Virginia state regulators removed an important protection for the blue crab Tuesday when they narrowly approved reopening the winter season after a 15-year closure, subjecting the vulnerable and keystone species to additional harvest. 

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted 5-4 on June 25 to reopen the winter crab dredge fishery, going against VMRC’s staff recommendation and nearly 200 public comments in opposition to the reopening.  

Crabbing is currently only allowed between March through the middle of December in Virginia. The winter dredge season, which could extend crabbing beyond December, primarily targets female crabs, which are key to a strong crab population.  VMRC is expected to decide the parameters of the reopened winter dredge season in September. 

The winter dredge fishery primarily harvests female blue crabs, whose numbers declined by nearly 20 million in the recent annual estimate of blue crab numbers in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. This reduction in the estimated population was the focus of much of the opposition

In addition, those opposed also noted the ongoing stock assessment, which is expected to shed new light on the Bay’s blue crab population in March 2026. 

In 2024, according to the survey, the adult female crab population decreased to 133 million compared with 152 million last year. This figure falls far below the target of 215 million adult female crabs needed for a healthy population and sustainable harvest in the Chesapeake Bay.  

The winter dredge fishery involves scraping crabs from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay where they lie semi-dormant through the winter. Declines in the blue crab population led to a fishery disaster declaration in 2008. That year, numerous Chesapeake Bay–wide conservation measures were enacted that included closing the winter dredge fishery.   

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Chris Moore released the following statement:  

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s decision to reopen the winter crab season this year puts the prospect of a healthy blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay in jeopardy. It is incredibly disappointing. The VMRC’s vote imperils not only the vulnerable blue crab, but the sustainability of harvests throughout the year and other species in the Bay that depend on the blue crab for food.

“The best available science calls for continuing a precautionary approach for female blue crabs, not an increase in harvest during the winter months. Overwintering adult females are an important segment of the population that help ensure sustainable blue crab numbers and support other harvests throughout the year. In addition to declines in female crab numbers, the annual survey results showed a low number of male crabs, and persistently below-average numbers of young crabs.

“Adding this new harvest while an assessment of the blue crab population is ongoing is ill-advised. Virginia needs to maintain a precautionary approach for the sake of all crabbers and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, not take an avoidable risk with a vital species.”  

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Allison Colden issued the following statement: 

“This vote represents a major breakdown in the cooperative management of blue crabs across the Chesapeake Bay. The partnership between Virginia, Maryland, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission has been key to maintaining a more productive and stable blue crab population since its drastic decline in the early 2000s. VMRC’s decision damages this partnership and undermines the need for conservative management of the species which has seen below average numbers throughout the Chesapeake Bay for years.”


Vanessa Remmers

Virginia Communications & Media Relations Manager, CBF

[email protected]

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