Virginia watermen fight mounting regulations

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Many industries keep Hampton Roads running, including the seafood industry. But some professional fisherman say new rules may force them out of business.

10 On Your Side is looking into why some say the changes are so necessary, and how they could hurt the way of life for so many others.

Virginia waterman are passionate. One wrote into ReportIt@wavy.com that the watermen have been cut short on income through the early closing of their oyster season. Another told us on Thursday that in less than 25 years, there have been more than 20 new regulations, and none of them have done what they’re supposed to do.

Photos: Local seafood industry under pressure

What the regulations are supposed to do, according to environmentalists, is save the seafood economy. If farmers have a bad season, they get help from the government, but if fisherman experience the same,  they say they’re looking at more restrictions that could shut down their operations for good.

“They’ve got regulation after regulation piled on top of us, and they got more coming down the pipe,” said Ken Diggs, Jr, a waterman who sits on the Crab Management Advisory Council for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “I just wish we could get back to like the old way it was, where we could work all year and provide our product and get our foothold back in the market.”

Diggs spoke to WAVY.com about what he calls a growing frustration with the government. He said there’s been a knee jerk reaction for every study that cautions about conserving Virginia’s oyster resources. And for studies about saving the declining blue crab population.

“There’s nothing wrong with the oysters,” Diggs said. “Mother nature has done her job. The oysters are back from one end of the Chesapeake Bay to the other. Right now you got one of the biggest processors selling a plant. You got processors closing, crabbers going out of business — we just can’t stand much more.”

“These other states which have no limits and don’t make these knee jerk reactions, they’re going to be sending crabs up here. It’s only a truck ride to get them there,” he said.

The Virginia Waterman’s Association is pushing back now, asking the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to give each commercial crabber an annual catch limit and let him crab whenever and wherever he wants, with no seasonal restrictions, until he reaches his maximum for the year.

That plan, they say, is the best shot at allowing them to stay competitive in the industry.

Many local waterman attended a commission meeting Wednesday night and said there will be another right before oystering season. But they don’t really feel like they’re being heard, and they hope someone will stand up for them in this fight.

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