The Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 22 to rescind a limited-entry policy that would have resulted in the commission's revoking more than half of the state-issued oyster dredge licenses and hand scrape licenses.

In August, the commission approved the controversial limited-entry policy, which was heavily criticized by commercial oystermen, many claiming the criteria used would unfairly put them out of business.

Chesapeake Bay watermen hand-dredging for oysters. Larry Chowning photo.At the start of the Sept. 22 meeting, Commissioner John Bull stated there had been confusion on the part of the commission over the 20-day criteria used by the VMRC staff to establish the limited entry policy. The commission hoped to weed out latent licenses by eliminating those that hadn't been used for more than 20 days in the last two seasons. The policy adopted in August was more restrictive and affected more oystermen than the commission anticipated, he said. Colder than average temperatures reportedly kept many watermen ashore.

Bull indicated the basic intent of limited entry is sound in that more than 1,800 oyster harvesting licenses are held for use on public oyster grounds and the resource "cannot sustain that amount of effort."

Other commission members agreed that conservation measures were needed, but as the commissioner noted the current limited entry plan may not be the best conservation approach.

The commission recommended that the Shellfish Management Advisory Committee provide a long-term "effort reduction plan," and it was hoped that would be provided to the commission in the summer of 2016.

In the meantime, emergency action will be considered at the October commission meeting. Some of the considerations may be to reduce the oystermen's week to four days instead of the current five days, or reducing daily limits.

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