Category Archives: Fisheries

Analysis of Kepone Levels in James River Fish in 2016 Issued by VIMS Scientists in June 2017

In June 2017, scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) issued their latest report on kepone levels in fish in the James River.  The VIMS researchers found that 35 percent of tissue samples from Striped Bass and White Perch taken in 2016 contained no detectable kepone, while 65 percent still contain detectable levels of the chemical.  Kepone in the James is a legacy of illegal discharges by the former Allied Chemical operation at Hopewell, which resulted in a $13.2 million settlement in 1977.

VIMS researchers sampled James River fish for kepone levels annually from 1975 to 2000, then again in 2002, 2004, 2009, and 2016.  Regarding the results from 2016, report co-author James Unger stated, “Kepone in fish tissues has continued to decline exponentially since 1980 and should be near or below the detection limit in all samples by 2020 or 2025 if current trends continue.”

Source: VIMS report offers mixed news on James River Kepone, William & Mary  News, 6/12/17.

Some Fish School, But Humans Interested in Aquaculture Can GO to “Fish School” at Virginia State University, July 5-7, 2017

On July 5-7, 2017, in Petersburg, Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University holds its annual  Fish School.  The event, emphasizing using aquatic resources to provide local food, offers educational sessions on growing fish or shellfish for a hobby or as a commercial enterprise.  Participants may register for single days or for the whole event.

Topics in 2017 include the following:
Day 1 – Species and Marketing, Aquaculture Nutrition, Water Quality and Fish Health; Day 2 – Farm Pond Management, Freshwater Shrimp, Cage Culture;
Day 3 – Greenhouse Production Systems/Aquaponics, Sampling fish populations, Over-Wintering Solar Power Energy Unit, Recirculating Aquaculture Systems.

Each day will have hands-on activities.

For more information, visit; or contact Brian Nerrie, VSU aquaculture extension specialist, at (804) 524-5903 or

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Survey for Winter 2017 Shows 31-percent Increase in Spawning Females over 2016, But Declines in Juveniles and Total Population

On April 19, 2017, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (Md. DNR), and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) reported the results of the latest winter dredge survey of Blue Crab populations in the Chesapeake Bay.  Since 1990, the survey has been conducted each year from December to March by VIMS and the Md. DNR.  The report for the 2016-17 survey showed increases over the previous year in spawning females but decreases in the number of juveniles and in the total population.  Despite the decreases, the population was the 11th highest recorded.   Survey results since 2008 are available online at

Following is an excerpt from the VMRC’s April 19, 2017, news release on the 2016-17 survey (see Sources, below, for the Internet link to the news release PDF):

“The Virginia Marine Resources Commission today released the results of the 2017 blue crab winter dredge survey, which shows a 31-percent increase in adult female crabs and forecasts another year of improved harvests.

“This is the highest level of adult, spawning age females recorded in the 28-year history of the Bay-wide crab winter dredge survey. …The results of the 2017 winter dredge survey show the total population of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay fell a bit, by 18 percent, due to a decline in the number of juvenile crabs, but remains at the 11th highest level ever recorded by the winter dredge survey.   This year’s female spawning stock increased by 31 percent, from 194 million to 254 million crabs, which surpassed the scientifically recommended target of 215 million spawning female crabs and remains well above the minimum safe threshold of 70 million crabs.  Spawning age female crabs are the cornerstone to maintaining a vibrant crab stock, and depend on conservative and cooperative fishery management efforts among the Bay jurisdictions.

“The adult male crab stock fell by 16 percent, from 91 million to a still-substantial 76 million.  However, the juvenile abundance plummeted by 54 percent, from 271 million to 125 million, which is the fourth lowest level on record.

“This was unfortunate but not unprecedented. Optimal spawning conditions do not occur every year.  Successful crab reproduction naturally fluctuates and can be affected by wind, currents, storms, temperature, and cannibalism. In recent years, post-reproduction predation events and environmental factors have caused at times dramatic downturns in crab stock abundance. For example, the level of juveniles fell from 581 million in 2012 to a mere 111 million in 2013.

“This reproductive variability highlights the need for fishery managers to continue to enhance resilience of the stock through adaptive management to compensate for unusual or extreme environmental conditions and the resulting impacts on reproductive success….

“A Bay-wide 10-percent crab harvest reduction was enacted in 2014 by VMRC, Maryland, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission to combat low overall crab abundance and to boost a dangerously depleted female spawning stock.   Bay fishery managers have since refined their management regimen to focus on conserving juvenile crabs as well as spawning age female crabs. Each year’s juveniles become the next year’s spawning stock.  Adjusting catch regulations to conserve more of today’s juveniles from harvest when they reach market size in the fall and emerge in the spring after overwintering in the water bottom increases the likelihood they will survive to spawn another generation of abundant crabs in the summer. …

“The Bay-wide commercial harvest increased by 20 percent last year, from 50 million pounds to 60 million pounds, and remains at sustainable levels.  Since 2014, the Bay-wide commercial crab harvest has jumped 71 percent while overall crab abundance has increased by 53 percent.  The current low level of juvenile crabs appears to preclude the reopening of the winter crab dredge fishery, which has remained closed since 2008.

“The annual Bay-wide Winter Dredge Survey is the primary assessment of the Bay’s blue crab population, and has been conducted annually by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources since 1990.  The survey employs crab dredges to sample blue crabs at 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay from December through March.  Sampling during winter when blue crabs are usually buried in the mud and stationary, allows scientists to develop, with good precision, estimates of the number of crabs present in the Bay.  The Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee (CBSAC), a subcommittee of the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team,is reviewing the new survey results and will release their full analysis of the results in the 2017 Blue Crab Advisory Report this summer.  The annual advisory report is used by managers as they review and update fishery regulations. …”

Following are the lowest and highest estimates of key parts of the Bay crab population since 1990:
Total (both sexes and all ages) – low of 251 million in 2007; high of 852 million in 1993.
Spawning-age females – low of 53 million in 1999; high of 254 million in 2017.
Juvenile-age (both sexes): low of 105 million in 1992; high of 581 million in 2012.

A table of all the results since 1990 is available in the VMRC’s April 19, 2016, news release.

Scientific Survey Shows Promising Blue Crab Stock Abundance with Boost to Adult Females (PDF), Virginia Marine Resources Commission News Release, 4/19/17.
Scientific survey shows highest-ever level of spawning-age female crabs, Virginia Institute of Marine Science News Release, 4/19/17.

Some news accounts on the winter 2016-17 survey are the following:
Survey finds Bay crab population strong, with record number of females, Bay Journal, 4/19/17.
The Chesapeake Bay was less crabby last winter, survey says, Virginian-Pilot, 4/19/17.

For previous News Grouper items on the Blue Crab winter dredge survey, please see this link:

New River PCBs are Subject of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Study in 2016-17; Draft TMDL Ready for Public Comment in May 2017; Final Public Meeting on TMDL Study Held May 10, 2017

This post updates previous posts from April 2016 and April 2017.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the New River in southwestern Virginia are the subject of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process that began in early April 2016.

The draft TMDL study for New River PCBs became available in May 2017; a link to the report is available at this DEQ Web site: comment on the draft will be accepted through June 9, 2017.

On May 10, 2017, the draft TMDL study was presented in a public meeting in Radford.  Information on the May 10 meeting is available at this Virginia Regulatory Town Hall link (link last checked May 11, 2017).  A Virginia Water Resources Research Center recording from the May 10 meeting is available at this link.  The recording (47 min./37 sec.) was intended to capture only the prepared remarks by Mark Richards, the DEQ staff person presenting the draft TMDL report at that meeting.  The posted audio deletes audience voices asking questions during the presentation and, for the most part, Mr. Richards’ responses to those questions.  Some of all of the visuals that were discussed during the May 10 presentation are available in the draft TMDL study (link noted above).

About 145 miles of the New, from Interstate 77 to the West Virginia line (along with several tributaries), have been under a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) fish-consumption advisory since 2004 (since 2001 for about 75 miles), when PCBs were found in fish-tissue samples.  An April 5, 2016, public meeting was held in Radford by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) to describe the known history of PCB contamination in the river and the TMDL study that aims to identify the current sources and loads of PCBs in the New.  Following a public comment period through May 3, 2016, the BSE Department and a DEQ technical advisory committee developed the New River PCB study that was released in draft form in May 2017.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that a TMDL study be done whenever the level of a pollutant in a water body regularly exceeds a state water-quality standard and, consequently, the water body is identified as “impaired.”  A TMDL study identifies sources of an impairment, allocates the contribution of each source to the overall impairment, and identifies reductions needed for the water body to fall within water-quality standards for the particular contaminant.  In Virginia, state law also requires development of TMDL implementation plan following the TMDL study.

According to the DEQ (“New River Watershed Study,” April 2016, available online at, PCBs “are chemicals that were used in electrical transformers and other equipment until the late 1970s and can remain in the environment for decades. … Sources of PCBs include, but are not limited to, point-source dischargers including municipal stormwater discharges, stormwater runoff from areas of known contamination, atmospheric deposition, and existing contamination in river sediments.”

DEQ information about the New River PCB TMDL is available online at

Other Sources:
Research could aid fight against PCBs in New River, Roanoke Times, 4/5/16.

Long hunt for source of PCBs in New River is to end this year
, Roanoke Times, 3/27/16.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Resources for PCB TMDLs,” online at

Virginia Department of Health, “Fish Consumption Advisories/New River Basin,” online at; and “Frequently Asked Questions about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs),” online (as PDF) at

New River Rt 611 Wilderness Road Pulaski County Jun30 2013 USED Grouper 4-12-16

On Virginia Water Radio for 3-20-17: Exploring the Smith River

Virginia Water Radio’s latest episode, for the week of March 20, 2017, is “Who Were Smith and Philpott and What Do They Have to Do with Virginia Water?”   The 4 min./29 sec. episode, available online at, traces some hydrological and historical connections of southern Virginia’s Smith River, including the connection to a legendary speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Smith River below Philpott Dam Jan16 2017 TWO

The Smith River just downstream of the Philpott Dam and Reservoir on the border of Franklin and Henry counties, Va., January 16, 2017.

Virginia Water Radio’s is a weekly broadcast/podcast produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.  The home page is  Have a listen or two!

Trout Fishing in Virginia: Links to VDGIF Stocked Trout Management Plan for 2016-2025 and Annual Stocking Plan

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) “Virginia Stocked Trout Management Plan (2016-2025)” is available online (as a PDF) at  A draft of the plan was released in July 2015, and public comments were accepted by VDGIF until September 2015.  The plan was produced by VDGIF, the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, and citizens on a stakeholder advisory committee.

According to the Executive Summary of the plan, the “plan contains two major sections: the technical section and the goals, objectives and strategies for management of stocked trout.  The technical section describes the history of trout management in Virginia, how VDGIF approaches management of stocked trout, including production, facilities, species produced, and challenges faced in raising trout. The second section of the Plan lists the values and goals for management of stocked trout within five major issue areas (what stakeholders want to achieve and why) and the objectives and strategies for management of stocked trout (specific accomplishments that will allow VDGIF to measure success in achieving goals and how to approach achieving goals and objectives). The Plan is designed to provide a blueprint for future direction of stocked trout management rather than specific details of day-to-day operations.”

VDGIF also annually publishes a “Catchable Trout Stocking Plan,” designating the stocking frequency and other details for the Commonwealth’s Designated Trout Waters, listed by locality.  A given year’s stocking plan is available online at

More information about VDGIF’s trout-fishing programs and activities is available online at

State of Chesapeake Bay Report for 2016 Conditions Released 1/5/17 by Chesapeake Bay Foundation

On January 5, 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) released its annual “State of the Bay Report,” for conditions in 2016, the Foundation’s first such report since 2014.  For 2016, CBF gave the Bay an overall index score of 34, which the organization rates as a “C-.”

In each report, CBF rates 13 biological and chemical measurements from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better conditions and 100 intended to represent conditions as described by European settler Captain John Smith in the early 1600s.  The report then averages the scores to give an overall Bay score.

The overall score of 34 for 2016 was a two-point increase over the 2014 score and a six-point increase since 2008.  The overall increase in 2016 was due to increased scores for nine of the 13 indicators, including an increase the Blue Crab populations score from 45 to 55 and an increase in the dissolved oxygen score from 19 to 25.  Despite the increases, however, the ratings for the following measures continue to be considered by CBF as poor (getting a “grade” of D or below): nitrogen, oysters, phosphorus, resource lands, shad, submerged aquatic vegetation (“underwater grasses”), toxics, and water clarity.  The scores for Blue Crabs, forested buffers, Rockfish (Striped Bass), and wetlands were all considered fair or better.

The table below compares scores for 2016 and several previous five reports.  The CBF report (see p. 9) asserts that the 2016 overall average score of 34 represents an “improving” but “far from saved” Bay; CBF’s “About the State of the Bay Report” Web page characterizes a score of 70 as “saved,” and the organization sets that score as an “achievable” goal by 2050.

The 2016 “State of the Bay” report is available online at; or contact CBF’s Virginia office at (804) 780-1392.

For a previous News Grouper post on the annual CBF reports, please see the following link: Report for 2012 (posted 1/3/13).

Additional Sources (besides the report):
Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Blueprint Progress Drives Improved Bay Health; CBF State of the Bay Score Up Two Points, News Release, 1/5/17; and “About CBF’s State of the Bay  Report,” online at

Here are several news accounts on the report for 2016:
Chesapeake Bay: Still Troubled but Improving, Bacon’s Rebellion, 1/5/17.
Bay foundation gives Chesapeake health a C-minus, its highest mark since 1998, Baltimore Sun/Capital Gazette, 1/5/17.
Chesapeake Bay health scores C- in new report, [Newport News] Daily Press, 1/5/17.
Report: Chesapeake Bay’s health is improving, but work remains, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/5/17.

  2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016
Blue Crabs 38 38 36 35 50 55 45 55
Dissolved Oxygen 12 16 16 14 19 25 37 40
Forested Buffers 55 56 56 56 58 58 58 57
Nitrogen 13 17 17 17 16 16 16 17
Oysters 3 4 4 4 5 6 8 10
Phosphorus 20 29 23 23 23 27 25 28
Resource Lands 29 29 29 30 31 32 32 32
Rockfish (Striped Bass) 71 71 71 70 69 69 64 66
Shad 12 10 10 9 9 9 9 11
Underwater Grasses (submerged aquatic vegetation) 20 18 18 20 22 20 22 24
Toxics 27 27 27 27 28 28 28 28
Water Clarity 15 15 14 14 16 16 18 20
Wetlands 42 42 42 42 42 42 42 42
AVERAGE 27 29 28 28 31 32 32 34