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Va. marine officials act to reduce female blue crab harvest by 10 percent

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NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia — There will be fewer female blue crabs harvested in Virginia over the next year in an effort to rebuild their population.

Over the objection of watermen that depend on catching and selling crabs for their livelihood, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted 4 to 2 on Tuesday to reduce the harvest of female blue crabs by 10 percent of the 2013 catch starting July 5 and lasting through July 4, 2015.

Officials say the move should help increase spawning potential and help reverse the depleted condition of female blue crabs, which tend to congregate in the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay. Male blue crabs tend to be found more often in the northern part of the bay in Maryland.

An annual winter survey released in May showed the number of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay dropped below the minimum safe level of 70 million and are depleted.

While the number of juvenile crabs increased and last year's harvest remained at a safe level for the sixth consecutive year, the total number of crabs remains comparatively low at about 297 million.

The annual survey serves as the primary assessment of the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population. It uses dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Bay from December through March.

However, crabs live in a constantly changing ecosystem and abundance levels are influenced by coastal currents, weather patterns, predators, water temperatures and a host of other factors, according to regulators. The long, cold winter is suspected to have contributed to the low numbers.

At a public hearing before the vote, some in the crab industry said the commission needs to find a better way to determine its regulations than basing them off the dredge count.

Among other things, the commission also banned the practice of harvesting crabs during the winter using dredges for another year.

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