Va. buys out more than 350 crabbers
Virginia is buying out the licenses of more than 350 of its crabbers, paying them anywhere from $500 to $175,000 each to give up their rights to harvest the Chesapeake Bay's iconic crustacean.
Jack Travelstead, fisheries director for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, said letters went out today (Nov. 20) accepting the offers of 359 holders of crabbing licenses. The commission had received offers to sell from 664 crabbers, roughly a third of all licensed crabbers in the state.
"I couldn’t be happier with the results,'' Travelstead said. "I am very pleased with the number of licenses we’ve been able to purchase."
Virginia had invited the state's 1,800 crabbing license holders to name their price, in a Priceline-style "reverse auction."
Maryland made a similar offer last summer to nearly 3,700 mostly small-time crabbers, but rejected the nearly 500 bids it got, declaring they didn't get enough reasonable offers. Only about a fourth quoted prices Maryland's Department of Natural Resources was willing to pay, with one apparent protest bidder demanding $425 million for his $60-a-year permit. The state then offered a flat $2,260 to each crabber, and got about 530 takers - a better result, though still short of the state's goal of retiring more than 1,300 licenses.
Virginia got some sky-high bids as well, Travelstead said, with the highest bid topping $600,000 and the total tally on all the bids exceeding $30 million. The bids accepted used up all $6.7 million in federal crab disaster funds the state had set aside for the buyback.
Unlike Maryland, where fisheries officials said they thought some crabbers may not have grasped or trusted the reverse auction, Travelstead said he believed "most people understood how it was working" in Virginia. The state gave its crabbers three months to respond to the buyback offer, compared with just a few weeks for Maryland's first try, and the bids really didn't start pouring in until the deadline loomed.
Travelstead said Virginia officials didn't simply take the cheapest bids, but weighed offers based on the number of crabpots each crabber was licensed to use, and how actively he or she had fished them. All told, the buyback should trim the pressure on crabs in Virginia by 75,000 crabpots, which Travelstead figured represents 15 to 20 percent of the total number that could be put in the bay if all license holders put out the maximum permitted.
The state did accept buyback offers from about 140 of the 450 crabbers whose licenses had been frozen because they hadn't reported any catch for five years. Acceptance letters went to about 60 full-time crabbers as well, and the rest to part-timers, Travelstead said.
Though pleased with the buyback result, Travelstead acknowledged it still would not shrink the crab fishery enough to ensure its long-term sustainability. He estimated that Virginia's share of the bay's crab population would reliably support only about 200 full-time crabbers, but he said it would be "unrealistic" to try to reduce the number of licenses that much.
"There just has to be a recognition that there are a lot of part-timers in this fishery," he said. "They'll come and go, but they're a part of the fishery."
(AP Photo 2009)