Crabbing in Virgina Tidal Waters

Charles Napier Hemy – The Crab Pots, 1904

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission regulates crabbing for recreational and commercial purposes. You can find all the details at this link, but the following is a brief summary for the casual crabber along Dymer Creek.

First, you are EXEMPT from any cCatching Crabs from the Dockrabbing license requirement if you have only two crab pots. You can harvest as much as one bushel of hard crabs and two dozen peeler crabs in any one day for personal use.

Second, if you like to harvest peelers (see definitions below) you are EXEMPT for one tank or float no greater than 4 ft x 8 ft  for shedding crabs for personal use.Measure a Crab


Minimum size limits:  5 inches for male hard crabs and immature female hard crabs.
No size limits exist for adult female hard crabs.

Each crab pot must have at least four unobstructed cull rings of at least 1-1/2 inch inside diameter, located two each under water in the lower portion of two opposite side panels (perpendicular to the shoreline). Most places in this area sell the right kind, but old pots may be short one cull ring. Vinyl coating on the wire helps prolong the life of the crab pot. J & W Seafood in Deltaville sells good crab pots at a good price.

Recreational Gear License

If you want to use up to 5 crab pots, you need a Recreational Gear License – and there are some restrictions.

  • The annual license fee for up to 5 recreational crab pots is $36.00
  • Any person licensed to use a recreational crab pound/trap is now limited to one bushel hard crabs and two dozen peeler crabs in any one day for personal use
  • The season for the Recreational Gear License, up to 5 crab pots, is June 1 through September 15
  • You cannot leave any hard crab pot or peeler pot in any Virginia tidal waters from December 1 through March 16  – this applies to exempt crabbers as well.

Check at the local VMRC field office for how to acquire a recreational crab pot license, and for updates on fees and restrictions:

Northern Area Office
(804) 580-2901
E-mail:  Captain Jim Rose (

6495 Northumberland Highway (street address)
P.O. Box 117 (mailing address)
Heathsville, VA 22473

Mondays & Wednesdays      8:00 A.M. – 12:00 noon & 1 – 4 P.M.
Fridays      8:00 A.M. – 12:00 noon


These come in especially handy when trying to find the right bathroom in local restaurants.

”Jimmy” means a male hard crab with a narrow apron on the abdomen.

Sook” means a mature female hard crab with a semicircular apron.

She-crab” means an immature female hard crab with a triangular apron.

Sponge crab” means an adult female hard crab which has extruded her eggs on the abdomen or abdominal flap.  The egg mass or “Sponge” may contain about 2 million eggs.

Peeler crab” means 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.

Backfin” means the last leg of the crab, flattened to aid in swimming.  Also known as the swimmer or paddle fin.

Buster” means a crab that has begun to back out of its old shell.

Softshell crab” means a crab which has recently emerged from its old shell.  The new shell is soft and tender.

Papershell” means a softshell crab whose shell has begun to harden.  The shell stiffens and becomes tougher – usually within 12 hours after shedding the old shell.

Doubler” means a male crab carrying a female crab prior to or after mating.  Usually the females are peelers or softshells.


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