Virginians definitely know how to crab and they enjoy every ounce of it. Locations such as Linkhorn Bay and Rudee Inlet are typically quite crowded with several crabbers hunting for the region’s famous blue crabs, especially from late spring season until the start of winter.
If you’re thinking of visiting the beaches of Virginia this season and are interested in crabbing then you definitely aren’t alone. However, if you are new to this activity or the state, you might want some insights into the whole Virginia crabbing scene, including the region’s legal crabbing requirements.
Virginia Crabbing Scene
The crabbing scene in Virginia primarily falls into two types – recreational and commercial. It is a major industry for both the Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay. However, you’ll need a permit or license from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission for commercial crabbing in the state. Crabbing for a living is quite a hard life in Virginia because of the intense and massive competition among the locals.
On the other hand, recreational crabbing in Virginia is easy and fun. Most Virginian households love crabbing for dinner or just as a fun holiday activity. Also, the best part is you don’t need a license for recreational crabbing in Virginia’s salt waters, provided that you don’t use any commercial crabbing gear.
In Virginia, crabbing season usually begins from the first or second week of March (late spring) and end around the last week of November (early winter).
The Most Common Crabs in Virginia
Virginia is one of the six states that enjoy the riches of the Chesapeake Bay. During the crabbing season, you’ll find an abundance of succulent blue crabs in the Virginian waters. Crabs of all kinds are available – mature, young, males, and females.
Mature blue crabs are usually between 5 – 7 inches (point to point measurement) with olive-green back and white legs and undersides. You’ll also notice that the color of their claws is somewhat blue-ish, hence their name.
You can easily differentiate between the male and female blue crabs by the color of their claws. While male crabs have the usual blue-ish claws, females tend to have red tips on their claws. A male crab is referred to as a “Jimmy,” and a female crab is called “Sally” or “She-crab.” Additionally, egg carrying female crabs are called a “Sook” or “Sookie.”
Besides the blue crabs, you can also find tons of sponge crabs ranging from bright orange to brown and black colors. However, there are various regulations you need to follow for crabbing in Virginia.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission makes it compulsory for all people wanting to catch any kind of shellfish or finfish in Virginian waters to obtain an appropriate gear license. License is available for both commercial and recreational crabbing. All licenses come with a validity period of up to a year.
However, there is also an exception for recreational crabbing. You don’t have to obtain a license for recreational crabbing in Virginia as long as you don’t use the commercial gear. Instead, you can take about two dozen peeler crabs and one bushel of hard crabs per day by using methods like chicken-necking, hand-netting, and dip-netting. You can also set up about two crab pots per person per day if you’re crabbing from the shore. Just make sure to keep them afloat with an “R” marking, indicating that it’s for recreational purposes.
Here are the crabbing limitations according to seasons:
|March 17 – November 30||Maximum 2 crab pots|
|June 1 – September 15||Licensed 3 – 5 crab pots|
|April 1 – October 31||Pound/Trap or Crab trotline|
|Year round||Foldable recreational traps, cast net and dip nets|
Crab size limits for crabbing in Virginia:
- Male crabs – 5 inches
- Immature female crabs – 5 inches
- Mature female crabs – No limit on the size
- July 16 – November 30: 3.25 inches
- March 17- July 15: 3.25 inches
- Seaside Eastern Shore: 3.25 inches
Softshell Crabs: 3.5 inches
Sponge Crabbing in Virginia
As said earlier, you’ll find three primary types of sponge crabs in Virginia waters according to the color – vibrant orange, brown, and black. From March 17 to June 15, you can keep all orange sponge crabs, except brown and black ones.
If you catch the brown or black sponge crabs, you’ll have to return them to the water. If you’re wondering why, it is because, during this period, brown or black sponge crabs have a better survival chance than orange crabs if you return them back to the water.
But from June 16 – March 16, you can keep any colored sponge crabs.
Best Locations in Virginia for Crabbing
Virginia is blessed with plenty of fishing and crabbing hotspots since it lies along the Chesapeake Bay. During the crabbing season, you can expect clusters of people fishing and crabbing in the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier. It is one of the state’s best locations for crabbing.
Throughout the Rudee Inlet and Linkhorn Bay, the beaches are filled with crabbing enthusiasts with dangling strings and fishnets waiting for their perfect catch! Locations such as Urbanna Town Marina & Deltaville Maritime Museum and Merroir also have public spots where you can find some great catches.
Now that you have gone through the legal requirements and hotspots for crabbing in Virginia, here are some crabbing tips to get you started:
- Go for the crabs that appear lively. If you find crabs that don’t move around much, it is most likely that something is wrong under their shell. Hence, the meat in such inactive crabs may be tainted and have an undesirable taste.
- Pick up your crab and check its weight in your hand. If it is too light, it means that the crab doesn’t have enough meat inside. Hence, always go for the heavier ones.
- Female blue crabs are usually meatier than the male crabs. Thus, some locals like to return them back to the water to find more crabs next year.