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Crabbers and regulators clash as Blue Crab populations remain below historic averages

Man wearing a white t-shirt, waterproof overalls and thick gloves is checking a crab pot on the edge of the boat that was just pulled from the water. The crab pot is sparsely filled with crabs.
Screen capture
VPM News Focal Point
Peter Nixon and fellow crabbers see their catches growing thinner as Blue Crab populations remain low.

Crabbers in Norfolk, Virginia struggle to make a living as Blue Crab populations sit well below historic averages. Virginia regulators are trying to preserve the Blue Crab population, but will this lead to the extinction of the Chesapeake Bay crabbers?


PETER NIXON: I've been on that advisory committee for blue crabs for 37 years, and nothing has gotten better.

Pfft, up here, it's down 80%. I started when I was 22. Now, I'm 73 and there's nothing left. And we've all been told, "Well, if you do this, this'll work. If you do this, this'll work," and none of it's worked.

They're managing for different things. I'm managing for economics, but my economics are realistic in that I can't go crabbing and not catch anything. So, I don't want to harm the resource beyond my ability to have it be feasible to continue to do it. And I think about that every day. They're thinking about a threshold of sustainability. And I'm thinking about the same thing, but it's my threshold of sustainability and I need a few more crabs than they need to sustain the species.

So, we're working at two different levels. They want it here. I want to see it here. And the regulations they're working on are keeping it here. And it needs to be better for the economics to work for me.

If I wasn't 73, I'd be really thinking about trying to figure out how to do something else. I have two or three young boys that I know that are in this fishery. They're in their 30s, 40s and they're good crabbers and they don't mind working. And I worry about the future of them.

Crabs used to be thick enough, when I first started crabbing, that you could crab in the morning. And if it was an incoming tide, when you finished your rig, you could actually go back and fish over some of your pots again, that it had enough incoming tide 'cause crabs feed on incoming tide. Now, we have to let them sit two days.

There used to be six or seven crabbers everywhere you went down the river every day. You'd crab next to each other and wave and talk and shoot the breeze. They're gone.

But this one, this one's a losing battle if we don't do something different, I think, you know? We'll never, never see the abundance that I saw in the '80s and the '90s. We'll never see it. These young guys will never see what we saw.


Emmanuel Tambakakis is an award-winning television and photojournalist with decades of experience in local and network news. Prior to joining VPM, Tambakakis worked as a photojournalist for KPNX NBC 12 in Phoenix, AZ, and CNN in New York City. Tambakakis shot and edited interviews, features and general segments for WCBS CBS 2 in New York, Al-Jazeera English and Reuters as an independent photojournalist. Tambakakis has also reported from outside the U.S., including Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and speaks Spanish, Greek, and French.