Blue crab is one of the most significant commercial fisheries in the United States in terms of both economic value and in weight. Most landings occur in states waters, and as such, direct management responsibilities are carried out by the respective states – generally by the state’s natural resource department. As most blue crab are caught in state waters, regional fisheries management councils are not directly involved in management. While states enact their own management, federal laws regarding water quality, habitat protection, and pollution still apply to the blue crab fishery. In 2010 the majority of blue crab landings occurred in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana.
Even though blue crab management is regulated by the respective states in which they are caught, Maryland, Virginia, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission work closely together to ensure a healthy blue crab fishery in the Chesapeake Bay – where their jurisdiction overlaps in estuarine waters – and are all signatories to the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The first FMP was implemented in 1989, and the second, revised FMP was implemented in 1997. Both plans have the same overarching goal of protecting the bay-wide stock while optimizing the long-term use of the resource. Management measures include: restrictions on the number of licenses, efforts to buy back unused licenses, gear restrictions, and protections for female crabs including setting female-specific harvest rates as well as reducing the number of female harvest licenses.
Where their jurisdiction overlaps in the Delaware Bay, Delaware and New Jersey also work collaboratively under the 1996 Delaware Bay Blue Crab FMP.
The North Carolina FMP for blue crab was first adopted in 1998 and has been amended a couple times since. The North Carolina FMP aims to maintain stock levels, promote harvest practices that minimize waste, protect and restore habitat, maintain the fishery as an economic resource, and promote research and education.
In the Gulf of Mexico, blue crab management is regulated by the respective states, but there is also a collaborative management effort between the states and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC). While the GSMFC helps coordinate monitoring and management, and can make management recommendations, the individual states remain responsible for management decisions and enforcement. Under this effort, Gulf States must consider the impact of any changes to state regulations on neighboring states. Among recommendations the GSMFC has proposed that all Gulf States comply with include: minimum size limits (five inch carapace length), trap identification systems, restrictions that fishers must only attend traps during daylight hours, and data collection efforts.
Most states have derelict crab pot removal programs that prevent ghost fishing. Bycatch prevention regulations vary depending on the state. New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland regulate the use of specific terrapin bycatch reduction measures and implement spatial restrictions within the fishery to protect terrapins.