New blue crab management measures will go into effect May 1 in North Carolina state waters. The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission approved the measures to end overfishing and achieve sustainable harvest with the adoption of the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Amendment 3 at its February meeting.
Reductions in harvest are necessary because a recent North Carolina stock assessment for blue crab determined the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. Overfished means the population is too small. Overfishing means the removal rate is too high. North Carolina law mandates that fishery management plans include measures to end overfishing within two years of adoption and rebuild the stock to achieve sustainable harvest within 10 years of adoption.
Division of Marine Fisheries Director Steve Murphey implemented the new measures through Proclamation M-7-2020 [portal.ncdenr.org], Proclamation M-8-2020 [portal.ncdenr.org], and Proclamation SH-1-2020 [portal.ncdenr.org]. Proclamations are available on the division’s website at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations [portal.ncdenr.org].
Management measures in the proclamations include:
- Retaining the prohibition on harvest of immature female hard crabs statewide.
- A 5-inch minimum size limit for mature female hard crabs statewide.
- Retaining the current 5% cull tolerance.
- Retaining the current cull ring number and placement requirements.
- Removing all cull ring exempted areas.
- Establishing new and adjusting already pre-existing crab spawning sanctuaries, where it is unlawful to set or use trawls, pots, and mechanical methods for oysters or clams or take crabs with the use of commercial fishing equipment at certain times of the year. Specific changes are:
- Expanding the existing crab spawning sanctuary in Barden Inlet and moving the boundary of the Drum Inlet sanctuary to encompass Ophelia Inlet, maintaining the March 1 through Aug. 31 closure;
- Establishing new crab spawning sanctuaries in Beaufort, Bogue, Browns, New River, Topsail, Rich, Mason, Masonboro, Carolina Beach, Cape Fear River, Shallotte, Lockwoods Folly, and Tubbs Inlets with a March 1 to Oct. 31 closure.
- Retaining the prohibition on crab dredges.
- Prohibiting crab trawls in areas where shrimp trawls are already prohibited in the Pamlico, Pungo, and Neuse rivers.
- Reducing the crab bycatch allowance for oyster dredges to 10% of the total weight of the combined oyster and crab catch or 100 pounds, whichever is less.
Information on Amendment 3 can be found on the Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan Information webpage [portal.ncdenr.org]. For more information, contact division biologist Corrin Flora at 252-264-3911.