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Public Notice: Proposed Amendments to Regulations, February 2008

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission invites public comment on the proposed amendments to the regulations listed below.

In accordance with 28.2-209 of the Code of Virginia, a public hearing on the proposed amendments will be held at 12:00 Noon, on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at the Marine Resources Commission, 2600 Washington Avenue, Newport News, Virginia. Written comments on the proposals should be mailed to Jack Travelstead, VMRC Fisheries Management Division, 2600 Washington Avenue, 3rd Floor, Newport News, Virginia 23607, by 5:00 p.m., Monday, February 25, 2008. Copies of the proposed amendments may be reviewed, at the Commission, Monday through Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and may be obtained by calling the Commission at (757) 247-2248.

The Commission proposes amendments to several of its regulations on blue crab harvest: Regulation 4VAC20-700-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Pots"; Regulation 4VAC20-270-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crabbing"; Regulation 4VAC20-752-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Blue Crab Sanctuaries"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-750-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Dredge License Sales"; and, Regulation 4VAC20-610-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Commercial Fishing and Mandatory Harvest Reporting". The purpose of the proposed amendments is to respond to a persistent low abundance of blue crabs, relatively low harvests and recent downturns in the production of juvenile crabs. In addition, a recent report of a scientific review of Virginia's blue crab management plan has reinforced the Commission's plan to reduce the 2008 harvest, in an attempt to prevent overfishing, augment the potential spawning stock and increase the abundance of age 1+ (2.4 inches and greater) blue crabs.

The Commission proposes to apply short-term conservation measures to the hard crab fishery, peeler crab fishery, blue crab sanctuary, effort control and winter dredge fishery. The Commission proposes the following management measures that will require amendments to regulations listed above.

1) Cull rings: the current regulation requires at least two unobstructed cull rings (one 2-5/16 inches in diameter and one 2-3/16 inches in diameter) in any crab pot. Currently, the larger cull ring may be obstructed within the crab dredge areas, Pocomoke and Tangier sounds and seaside of Accomack and Northampton counties. The Commission proposes to require that all crab pots, in any area, shall contain unobstructed cull rings, regardless of cull ring size. In addition, the Commission proposes to consider alternative measures that would achieve conservation benefits expected from a statewide mandate that any crab pot set, placed or fished in Virginia waters must have at least two unobstructed cull rings. These measures are intended to increase the spawning potential and reduce waste of the resource.

2) Season limits: the current regulation establishes the lawful crab pot and peeler pot season as March 17 through November 30. The Commission proposes to shorten this season, by establishing the opening of the season as April 1and the close of the season as November 15. The Commission also proposes to consider alternative season limits that would achieve the necessary conservation of this resource and reduce the annual harvest rate on blue crab.

3) Peeler crab minimum size limit: the current regulation makes it unlawful for any person to take, catch or possess more than 10 peeler crabs, per United States standard bushel, that measure 3 inches across the shell, from tip to tip of the longest spikes. The Commission proposes to raise the minimum size limit to 3 inches or 3 inches, in an effort to raise the spawning potential and reduce waste.

4) Peeler crab definition: currently, a peeler crab means a crab that has a soft shell fully developed under the hard shell, or a crab on which there is a pink or white line or rim on the edge of that part of the back fin next to the outer section of this fin. The Commission proposes to define a peeler crab as a crab on which there is a pink line or rim on the edge of that part of the back fin next to the outer section of this fin. This proposal seeks to prohibit harvest of white-sign (white-line) peelers thereby augmenting the spawning potential and reducing waste.

5) Virginia Blue Crab Sanctuary: currently, all areas are closed to commercial harvest, and select areas are closed to recreational harvest, from June 1 - September 15. The Commission proposes to establish May 15 through September 15, as the time period when these harvest activities shall be unlawful within the Virginia Blue Crab Sanctuary. This proposal seeks to afford additional protection to crabs that spawn earlier than June 1.

6) Control the use of agents or "agency": currently, the regulation allows any individual to serve as an agent for a licensed crab fisherman. The current regulation allows one person to serve as an agent for multiple license holders. The Commission proposes that, except for true emergencies, no agents should be allowed. This proposal also attempts to help reduce the possibility of overfishing in 2008.

7) Crab dredge fishery: Participation has declined from 302 vessels in 1994 to 79 in 2006. Crab dredging accounts for only 9.2 percent of the total harvest, but 97% of harvested crabs are females. Further expansion of participation in this fishery should not be permitted, as the annual harvest rate on female blue crabs has been above target 7 of the last 10 years.

Regulation 4VAC20-751-10 et seq., "Pertaining to the Setting and Mesh Size of Gill Nets"

The Commission invites public comment on a proposal to amend Regulation 4VAC20-751-10 et seq. "Pertaining to the Setting and Mesh Size of Gill Nets". This proposal would define an unattended net and attendance and placement requirements for small mesh (<5 inches, stretched measure), for an area to include Smith Point Light north to the Virginia-Maryland border, along the seaside of Accomack and Northampton Counties, from June 1 through October 15.

Regulation 4VAC20-620-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Summer Flounder"

The Commission invites public comments on conservational options designed to achieve the Virginia recreational summer flounder 2008 target landings of 311,562 fish. This target is established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and represents a 21.6 percent reduction from the 2007 recreational landings of summer flounder. The options are as follows:

Table A. Options proposed to reduce 2008 landings by 21.6%, from 2007 landings.

Option Minimum Size limit (inches) Possession Limit (number of fish) Closure dates
1 18.5 3 1/1 - 4/15 and 7/21 through 8/15
2 18.5 3 7/21 through 8/23
3 19.0 3 1/1 through 3/29
4 19.0 4 7/21 through 7/28
5 19.0 5 7/21 through 7/30

Regulation 4VAC20-950-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Black Sea Bass"

The Commission invites public comment on amendments that establish the 2008 commercial black sea bass directed and by-catch fisheries quotas, as well as to consider adjustment of the minimum transfer provision. The 2007 commercial black sea bass by-catch fishery quota was set as 40,000 pounds. The purpose of these amendments, effective March 1, 2008, is to comply with the federal or interstate management plans.


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