Virginia’s commercial watermen are taking a lead role in defining the future for the blue crab fishery.

In an effort supported by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), crabbers from across coastal Virginia have formed the Virginia Blue Crab Industry Panel (Panel).

Newly initiated, this Panel brings commercial watermen representing diverse gear types together with fisheries managers and conservation groups to design a long-term blue crab management system that meets conservation and management goals while also achieving the economic and social goals of the industry. The new Panel will complement the work of VMRC’s existing Blue Crab Management Advisory Committee that focuses on shorter-term management needs.

The Panel will consider the longer-term view of the commercial blue crab industry and think more broadly about how the blue crab fishery will be managed in the next five years and beyond.

Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel has identified long-term priorities on which they will focus. These include increased accountability measures within the fishery, identifying ways to attract younger watermen into the industry, assessing total crabbing effort, and gaining a better understanding of alternative management strategies that may benefit the commercial blue crab fishery and its fishermen. One of the initial focal areas is to explore a pilot electronic harvest reporting program for crabbers around the state. In addition to that focus, the Panel is also engaged in the ongoing winter crab dredge research study.

VMRC Commissioner, Jack Travelstead, supports the panel and is “encouraged by [their] commitment to discuss issues and propose conservation measures that [they] envision as crucial to the long-term sustainability of the blue crab resources and fisheries.” Parallel efforts in Maryland, where there is a similar industry-led process underway, and Virginia may usher in a new style of fisheries management within the Chesapeake Bay where commercial watermen have a leadership role in exploring alternatives to current management and commit to co-management of the resource with the state regulatory agency.

The Panel encourages participation from additional interested crabbers. Virginia’s Panel meets monthly, on the last Sunday of the month, at the Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel from 1 to 5 pm. The next meeting will be held on Feb. 24.

Contact information and panel materials are accessible from or contact Paula Jasinski at 804.824.3945.

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