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Public Notice: Proposed Amendments to Regulations, April 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, April 22, 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, April 21, 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 4 VAC 20-700-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Pots"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-270-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crabbing"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-750-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Dredge License Sales"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-300-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Catch Limits"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-90-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Dredging for Crabs"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-40-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Catch Limits"; Regulation 4 VAC 20-880-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Hard Crab and Peeler Pot License Sales"; and, Regulation 4 VAC 20-670-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Recreational Gear Licenses."

The purposes of the proposed amendments are to respond to a persistent low abundance of blue crabs, unprecedented low harvests and recent downturns in the production of juvenile crabs. In addition, a recent report from a 2007 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 the following management measures that will require amendments to regulations listed above.

1) Reductions, from 10 to 30%, in crab pot and peeler pot limits. Crab pot limits currently range from 100 pots to 500 pots. There has been a decline in active participation, from 24 to 34% (depending on pot category license), in the crab pot fishery, since 2003. However, the number of fishermen that remain eligible to harvest has increased, from 1 to 5%, since 2003. Peeler pot licensees are currently limited to 300 pots, and VMRC records indicate that 62% of peeler pot licensees in 2001 set and fished less than 300 peeler pots. The recent decreases in the number of active crabbers, is a response to the decade-long condition of low stock abundance and other economic factors. However, there is still an overcapacity of gear in these fisheries, to the extent that necessary reductions in harvest cannot occur without further reductions in the numbers of pots set and fished.

2) Under the authority established by Section 28.2-707 of the Code of Virginia, the Commission will also consider proposals to shorten or eliminate the winter dredge fishery season and to lower the current bushel limit (51 bushels). Additionally, the Commission will consider area-specific management options, wherein crab dredging on hard bottom areas would be prohibited. At this time the fishery is limited to 53 individuals. However, the abundance of the stock and female crabs remains very low, and the winter dredge fishery harvests almost exclusively (97%) female crabs which are the same crabs that comprise the following spring and summer spawning stock. There are also varying but significant amounts of waste (dredge damaged female crabs), depending on area and time of the year, associated with this fishery.

3) The Commission will consider a proposal to establish a 6 -inch maximum size limit on mature female crabs. This size limit would require all female crabs greater than 6 inches be returned to the water, and this measure would protect these crabs, for spawning.

4) Mandatory use of 2 3/8" cull rings in tributaries will be considered, primarily to allow additional sublegal male crabs and some smaller mature females to escape from crab pots. 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.

5) Mandatory use of peeler pot cull rings will be considered, for the first time. Currently, only peeler traps or pounds are required to use cull rings. Cull (or escape) rings have been shown to reduce waste in other fisheries and will augment the spawning potential.

6) The Commission will consider reducing the number of pots a recreational licensee may set and fish. Currently, the license allows 5 pots.

7) The Commission will consider a proposal to revoke any crab license of any licensee that has received 2 crab violations, within a 12-month period.

8) Establishment of bushel limits by area or season will be considered. There is currently a 51-bushel limit, for the crab pot fishery, from March 17 through May 31.

9) The Commission will consider establishing closed seasons to conserve female crabs. This measure is intended primarily to conserve female crabs, especially those crabs that migrate down-bay during late fall and comprise the next year's spring and summer spawning stock.


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