Virginia Crabbing: Regulations, Season, Locations

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The Virginia crabbing season is just around the corner! For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, crabbing is a popular activity that attracts people from all over to come and catch crabs in Virginia. 

There are many regulations that must be followed if you want to enjoy the fun of catching your own crabs so make sure to read these carefully before getting started. 

The article will cover local crabbing regulations, the crabbing season for Virginia, and locations where you can go crabbing in the state.

This information has been sourced from a range of government resources and attempts to provide the source wherever possible!

Virginia Crabbing Legal Requirements, Regulations, and Licensing

Licensing Information

The following section details what activities require a license and what activities do not. Sources to the respective legal code are added where possible for additional reading.

Non-Licensed Activity

The following activities do not require a license in Virginia under Code 28.2-226:

  • Taking by dip net, hand line (e.g. “chicken necking”), or up to two commercial-style crab pots as much as one bushel of hard crabs and two dozen peeler crabs in any one day for personal use.
  • Using one tank or float no greater than 4 feet in width and 8 feet in length for shedding crabs for personal use.

Activity Requiring a License

The use of the following gear requires a license for “recreational use of commercial gear”. 

Each of these licenses shall be issued to an individual for their exclusive use under Code 28.2-226.2 , 4VAC20-670-20:

  • One crab trap or pound ($6.00)
    • Note: The crab trap licensed in Virginia is a fixed gear similar to a pound net. This gear must be approved by Marine Law Enforcement. Only one crab trap license may be purchased per individual.
  • Crab trotline up to 300 feet ($10.00)
  • 3 to 5 recreational crab pots with ($36.00)
    • Use of terrapin excluder devices (TEDs) is mandatory with licensed 5-pots. (Click for more information on TEDs.)
    • Only one 5-pot license may be purchased per individual.
  • Cast net ($10.00) or covered by Saltwater Recreational Fishing License

Where can you buy a Virginia crabbing license?

The aforementioned licenses can be purchased from a range of locations. For a complete list see below:

  • MRC Licensing Agents 
  • DGIF agents 
  • Mail-in purchase can be arranged by calling (757) 247-2265
  • Crab pound/trap licenses can only be bought from Operations & MPO field offices

Possession Limits

All recreational crabbers are limited to a maximum of 1 bushel of crab and 2 dozen peeler crabs per person, and or vessel, per day.

A bushel is equivalent to approximately 40 pounds of crab.

Virginia Crabbing Locations, Regulations, and Season Blog Post Feature Image

Crab Size Limits

Hard Crabs

  • Male – Max 5 inches
  • Immature female – Max 5 inches
  • Mature female – No size limit

Peeler Crabs

  • March 17-July 15: 3.25 inches: 
  • July 16-November 30: 3.25 inches
  • Seaside Eastern Shore: 3.25 inches

Softshell Crabs

  • 3.5 inches

Additional Crabbing Regulations

In general, it is against the law to break any of the following rules;

  • Have one person fish with more than 5 crab pots
  • Crab recreationally within Virginia Blue Crab Sanctuary Area 1A from June 1 through September 15, and any other Blue Crab Sanctuary areas during their marked seasons.

Regulations for Crabbing in the Maryland and Potomac Rivers

Adult Female Sponge Crab

Note: Sponge Crabbing

A sponge crab is an adult female crab who is visibly exhibiting her eggs on her abdomen/ abdominal flap. When female crabs are in this stage their eggs will assume three colour types including bright orange, brown, and bright orange brown.

In Virginia from March 17th to June 15th you can only keep bright orange sponge crabs, All others must be put back in the water. From June 16th to March 16th you can catch any sponge crab.

Most individuals will put sponge crabs back in the water to ensure the stock of crabs is plentiful for future fisherman.

Local Definitions of Crab Types

The following are the definitions for each crab type found in the Virginia area. Each crab may experience one of these stages in its lifecycle.

  • Jimmy: A male hard crab with a narrow apron on the abdomen.
  • Sook: A mature female hard crab with a semicircular apron.
  • Sponge crab: An adult female hard crab that has extruded her eggs on the abdomen or abdominal flap. The egg mass or “Sponge” may contain about 2 million eggs.
  • Peeler crab: Any crab with a soft shell fully developed under the hard shell. A white, pink, or red line on the outer section of the “backfin” is an indicator.
  • Softshell crab: A crab that has recently emerged from its old shell. The new shell is soft and tender.

Virginia Crabbing Season

Up to 2 crab potsMarch 17 – November 30
Licensed 3-5 crab potsJune 1 – September 15
Crab trotline or pound/trapApril 1 – October 31
Hand line, collapsible recreational traps, cast netAll year

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, “It is unlawful for any person to place, set, or fish or knowingly leave any hard crab pot or peeler pot in any Virginia tidal waters from December 20 through March 16.”

Best locations to go crabbing in Virginia

As you may have guessed already, Virginia has many crabbing locations to choose from! So much so, that it can be difficult to decide where to head off crabbing.

To help we’ve gathered a list of the 10 best locations to go crabbing in Virginia.

  1. Chesapeake Bay
  2. Lower Potomac River
  3. Elizabeth River
  4. Virginia Beach Fishing Piers
  5. Rudee Inlet and Linkhorn Bay Area
  6. Ocean View Pier
  7. Yeocomico River
  8. Nandua creek, Hacksneck, Eastern shore
  9. Urbanna Creek
  10. Gloucester Fishing Pier

All these locations have been proven grounds to catch crabs so you should have luck with any place you choose from this list!

Article Sources:

Picture of Ryan W

Ryan W

Ryan is the owner of Fisherman First and manages the team of expert writers on the site. He's fished his entire life and has been to locations across North America to catch a range of fish and crustacean from crabs and prawns to minnow and trout.