The US Jonah crab fishery is managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) under the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (IFMP) for Jonah crab. Approved in 2015, and implemented in 2016, the IFMP was prompted by the American Lobster Board due to concerns regarding the recent and rapid increase of Jonah crab landings in the American lobster fishery. Historically, Jonah crabs have been considered a nuisance bycatch in the lobster fishery and used to supplement operational cost for these fishers. In recent years a directed fishery has emerged for both Jonah and rock crabs as abundance and market demand have increased. The majority of Jonah crabs are harvested by lobster fishers using lobster traps and occur in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The IFMP establishes a singular management unit for Jonah crab from Maine through Virginia – encompassing the entire Northwest Atlantic and adjacent inshore waters. The plan creates a uniform program for fishers and aims to promote conservation, reduce the possibility of recruitment failure, and allow full utilization of the resource. Among measures the IFMP establishes are:
- A 4.75” minimum size limit
- Restrictions prohibiting the take of egg-bearing females and partial claws
- Trip limits
- Gear restrictions (all traps must adhere to the Lobster Management Plan and have trap tag and escape vent requirements)
- 100 percent harvester and dealer reporting
- Limiting participation in the direct fishery to vessels and permit holders who already hold a lobster permit (or can prove participation in the crab fishery before June 2015)
The US Jonah crab fishery is not a federally regulated fishery and there have been no federal stock assessments conducted for the species. As no coast-wide stock assessment has been undertaken yet, there is no definition of overfishing for Jonah crab. While little information is available regarding the stock status of Jonah crab and the impact of the fishery, the ASMFC intends to develop a research strategy to gather this information and it is considered a high priority for the future.
The ASMFC and American Lobster Management Board are generally responsible for carrying out all activities under the IFMP with the Management Board establishing and overseeing the activities of the following:
- A Jonah Crab Advisory Panel that will meet annually (or as necessary) to review management changes and developments in the fishery;
- A Jonah Crab Technical Committee that will review stock assessment development once that information is available and will forward recommendations to the Management Board;
- A Jonah Crab Stock Assessment Subcommittee that will meet every five years to review and update or preform a benchmark stock assessment for Jonah crab; and,
- A Jonah Crab Plan Review Team that will review implementation of the management program annually and will work to prioritize future research needs.
The American Lobster Management Board is also responsible for reviewing state compliance with the IFMP.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada manages the Canadian Jonah crab fishery. Jonah crabs have traditionally been caught as bycatch in the Canadian inshore and offshore lobster fisheries; however, in the 1990s exploratory fisheries emerged as market demand for Jonah crab grew in Canada. In 2000 a permanent fishery was established and in 2004 all exploratory crab permits became permanent commercial licenses. As of 2010, there has been little to no commercial activity in the Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) due to a decline in abundance and therefore low catch rates as well as low market demand and price. The offshore Jonah crab fishery is inactive and most landings in that region are from the bycatch and bait fisheries for lobster.