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Va. extends blue crab harvest by 2 weeks

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Virginia watermen are getting an extra two weeks to harvest blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted unanimously Monday to extend the harvest through Dec. 15.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the extension is part of a compromise with watermen and conservationists. The deal also requires a new collection system in 2013 that’s expected to limit catches of blue crabs. The new system is based on a sliding scale depending on the number of traps set in the bay.

“This is an excellent example of staff and industry working together to end up in a good place,” said Jack Travelstead, who heads the commission.

The compromise was endorsed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, which is the state’s adviser.

Crabs fell to a record low in 2007, when scientists estimated a total of only 249 million across the bay because of habitat loss, overfishing and pollution. Since then, however, harvest limits helped numbers surge to 658 million in 2010. The population dropped to 460 million in spring 2011 due to an unusually cold winter.

Maryland had urged Virginia to not extend the 2012 season because of concerns that too many pregnant female crabs will be harvested. Both states have worked to protect pregnant female crabs in the bay.

“We are very concerned about the possibility that increased harvest opportunity is offered in the coming months,” Tom O’Connell, Maryland’s director of fisheries, wrote in a letter last week to his Virginia counterparts.

In response to these concerns, the commission continued a ban on winter dredging. The technique involves dragging a heavy steel comb along the bottom of the bay to pick up hibernating crabs. Most are pregnant females.