Cull Rings

Cull rings in crabpots have become an accepted management tool for the conservation of blue crabs in several states. Cull rings have proven to be effective at passively culling small crabs, thereby eliminating handling mortality, and easily policed by Law Enforcement. A VMRC survey in 1989 indicated 59% of the crab pot fishermen used cull rings voluntarily at times because the rings save the crabbers time and expense spent culling. VMRC conducted studies to determine the efficiency of various sizes of cull rings from 1986-1988; crab pots with more than one ring were reported as being more efficient. Various studies have shown the 2 5/16 inch cull ring effective in releasing male crabs less than 5 inches (the current minimum size) (VMRC 1993 and 1994, unpublished).

The female crab is the backbone of the picking house industry, however. Once the female crab has become mature (terminal molt), it can legally be harvested in Virginia. Mature female crabs dominate landings in the high salinity waters of the main stem of the Bay and lower tributaries. A crab pot cull ring study conducted in 1994 focused on culling efficiency and cull ring size selection for mature female crabs. The study re-enforced earlier works which indicated culling efficiency for a crab pot is increased as the number of cull rings per pot is increased (Guillory and Merrill 1993, Eldridge et al. 1979, and Keener 1984).

Prior to the 1994 study, the crab industry had expressed concern over the potential loss of small mature female crabs. The 1994 study quantified the industry concern, demonstrating that 17.5% of mature sooks could escape through a 2 5/16 inch cull ring. However a ring of 2 3/16 inch would allow a maximum of 6% of the mature female crabs to escape.

Requiring different sized cull rings in the Bay, where the harvest consists mainly of female crabs, and in the tributaries, where the harvest is primarily male crabs, would be burdensome. Such a regulation would necessitate crab potters maintain two rigs of pots, as potters are highly mobile to follow the "runs" of crabs through the Bay and respond to market conditions.

As part of a comprehensive package designed to conserve the crab resource yet protect the crabbing industry, regulation 450-01-0093, which required all crab pots to have a cull ring of 2 5/16 inches or greater, was adopted by the Commission in 1994. Regulation 450-01-0093 was modified in December 1995 to require two cull rings, one 2 5/16 inches or greater and one 2 3/16 inches or greater. The two cull rings of different sizes were chosen as a compromise between industry concerns and resource conservation. Culling efficiency is improved by increasing the number of cull rings in each pot. The conservation would be greatest in the tributaries, which harbor most immature female and small male crabs, where both rings must be open. Industry concerns were addressed regarding the harvest of small mature female crabs by allowing the 2 5/16 inch ring to be closed when the pot is fished in the Bay (as delineated in code by crab dredge lines). Equally important to industry, the same piece of gear could be used in the tributaries (both cull rings open) and in the Bay (with the 2 5/16 inch ring closed).


Virginia Law regarding Cull Rings



This regulation establishes a requirement for the use of cull rings in crab pots, and is promulgated pursuant to the authority contained in 28.2-201 of the Code of Virginia.

This regulation amends previous Regulation 4 VAC 20-700-10 et seq., "Pertaining to Crab Pots," which was promulgated on March 28, 2000 and made effective April 1, 2000. The effective date of this regulation is July 1, 2000.

4 VAC 20-700-10. PURPOSE.

The purpose of this chapter is to conserve the blue crab resource by promoting the escape of small crabs from crab pots through the use of cull rings.


A. It shall be unlawful for any person to place, set or fish any crab pot in Virginia's tidal waters which does not contain at least two unobstructed cull rings of size and location within the pot as hereinafter described, except as provided in subsections B and C of this section. One cull ring shall be at least 2 5/16 inches inside diameter, and the other cull ring shall be at least 2 3/16 inches inside diameter. These cull rings shall be located one each in opposite exterior side panels of the upper chamber of the pot.

B. The required 2 5/16 inches inside diameter cull ring may be obstructed in crab pots set on the seaside of Accomack and Northampton Counties or within the crab dredge areas, as set forth in Chapter 4 VAC 20-90-10 et seq., or within Pocomoke or Tangier Sound.

C. Peeler pots with a mesh size less than 1 1/2 inches shall be exempt from the cull ring requirement.

4 VAC 20-700-30. PENALTY.

Pursuant to 28.2-903 of the Code of Virginia, any person violating any provision of this regulation shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, and a second or subsequent violation of any provision of this regulation committed by the same person within 12 months of a prior violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.



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