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Virginia Seafood Sustainability

This report was requested by the Virginia Marine Products Board and prepared by Thomas Murray and Christopher Petrone, Marine Advisory Service, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary. VIMS Marine Resource Report No. 2011-1.

How Are Sustainability Regulations and Limits Determined?
Regulations, limits, and best practices are backed by hard data. Data is gathered in a variety of ways, including from marine scientists and fishery managers as well as seafood producers who are required to provide information on their harvest levels and practices and are subject to operational monitoring to ensure compliance. With this information, various regulatory agencies can analyze the overall fishing effort and stock conditions and implement regulations and limits for maintaining sustainable stocks.

What Kind of Sustainability Regulations and Limits Are Used?
Fishery regulatory agencies use a variety of tools to achieve sustainability, including many of the same tools used by private sustainability certifiers. Such regulatory tools include Fishery Management Plans (FMP) to sustain harvests and rebuild stock sizes fallen below scientifically derived target sustainability levels and restrictions on fishing seasons, fish size, days at sea, and gear. As you can see in the table on the next page that summarizes the sustainability measures used in Virginia's primary fisheries, many fish species are regulated using several of these tools.

What Agencies Regulate Virginia's Fisheries?
Virginia's marine fisheries are managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), which works with regional and federal authorities to regulate fish that migrate across state boundaries. Other agencies include:

  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provides law enforcement at the harvest and wholesale distribution levels, enforces regulations that ensure the chain of custody of seafood products is documented with harvesters and seafood dealers, and monitors highly migratory fish that inhibit federal waters.
  • Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) oversees interstate fishery management plans (FMP) for fish that migrate in and out of Virginia waters.
  • Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) regulates and manages fish that primarily inhabit offshore waters (more than 3 miles off the Virginia coast).
  • New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) co-manages some important seafood products in Virginia, such as the Atlantic Sea Scallop, with MAFMC.

Summary of Sustainability Measures for Some Virginia Marine Fishery Products

Sources: N.O.A.A. National Marine Fisheries Service, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Virginia Marine Fisheries Commission.

Common Name
(Scientific name)
Most local FMP Size Limit Quota Gear Limits Seasonal closures Overfishing Mid-Atlantic?
Black Sea Bass
(Centropristis striata)
Virginia Y Y Y N N
(Pomatomus saltatrix)
Virginia   Y N N N
(Peprilus triacanthus)
MidAtlantic         N
Crab, blue
(Callinectes sapidus)
Virginia Y Y Y Y  
Crab, red
(Chaceon quinquedens)
Federal         N
(Micropogonias undulates)
Dogfish, spiny
(Squalus acanthias)
MidAtlantic   Y N N N
Eastern Oyster
(Crassostrea virginica) - aquaculture
Virginia BMP   NA Y N N
Eastern Oyster
(Crassostrea virginica) - wild
Virginia Y Y Y Y NA
Flounder, summer
(Paralichthys dentatus)
MidAtlantic Y Y N N N
Grey Trout, weakfish
(Cynoscion regalis)
Virginia Y Y Y Y  
Hard Clam
(Mercenaria mercenaria) - aquaculture
Virginia BMP Y   Y N N
Hard Clam
(Mercenaria mercenaria) - wild
None Y NA     NA
(Lophius americanus)
MidAtlantic   Y N N N
Scallop, sea
(Placopecten magellanicus)
Federal N Y Y N N
(Leiostomus xanthurus)
Spotted Seatrout/Speckled Trout
(Cynoscion nebulosus)
Atlantic States Y Y N N  
Striped Bass
(Morone saxatilis)
Virginia Y Y N Y N
Whelk, channeled
(Busycotypus canaliculatus)
None Y Y Y N