Good News for Blue Crabs: Va. Governor McAuliffe Appointed to Bay Leadership Role

bluecrab_infographicThe Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America and is one of the most biologically productive areas on the East Coast. Part of EDF’s work in the Northeast is focused on the incredible Chesapeake Bay and its once prosperous fisheries, some of which are now in serious trouble.

But we see some encouraging news for the Chesapeake Bay – and for its iconic blue crabs – with the appointment of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council.

The Chesapeake Executive Council, established in 1983, guides the Chesapeake Bay Program’s policy agenda and establishes conservation and restoration goals. The Council plays a key role in overseeing the federal and state Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. It will also oversee the recently signed Bay Agreement, which highlighted the need to protect and restore the Bay’s blue crab population by improving management. With Virginia’s track record of responsible fisheries management, Governor McAuliffe is uniquely positioned to lead this effort.

The commercial blue crab fishery is the largest and most valuable fishery in Maryland and Virginia—watermen land roughly 80 million pounds of crab annually. But a new management approach to this fishery is sorely needed, because the blue crabs are in devastating decline.

The total crab population in the Chesapeake Bay in 2014 is back at the same low levels found six years ago in 2008, when the federal government declared the situation a “commercial fishery failure.” The population is among the lowest levels since 1990, according to the latest blue crab winter dredge survey, and the number of mature female crabs fell one million short of the bare minimum scientists say is needed to sustain the population.

And while humans may have limited control over the weather, predators or other natural variables that impact blue crabs each year, the one variable we can control is how we manage this fishery.

At EDF, we believe a successful management approach must provide for both the sustainability of the crab population (good for conservation) and the commercial industry that depends on it (good for watermen). Our current system forces watermen to catch crabs quickly, leaving few big, old crabs left in the Bay – which creates instability and fluctuation in the already tenuous crab population. It’s a system that does not incentivize conservation or long term viability for watermen. Something has got to change.

By and large, Virginia has a strong track record of responsible fisheries management; striped bass, black sea bass, summer flounder and other Virginia fisheries offer excellent models for the blue crab fishery. Now is the time for the state to apply that track record of success to blue crabs. That’s why we’re so encouraged to have Governor McAuliffe in this critical Bay leadership role.

At EDF, we look forward to working with Governor McAuliffe to promote a sustainably managed Bay-wide blue crab fishery that supplies consumers with locally caught crabs, boosts local economies and supports watermen today and for generations to come.

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