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Virginia CZM Program 2005 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:

FY2005 Task 9.07


Virginia Marine Resources Commission

Project Title:

An evaluation and comparison of dredge fishing activity on the Seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore between 1994-1995 and 2005-2006.

Project Description as Proposed:

In 1994, the Virginia Coastal Program funded a study entitled: An Evaluation of Dredge Fishing Activity on Seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. In a collaborative effort between the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Eastern Shore Lab and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, an aerial survey of crab and clam dredge activity was conducted for one year. Significant resource damage from clam dredging activity on both public and private grounds was documented. The practice of acquiring or using leased bottom primarily for dredging hard clams was concluded to be inconsistent with the Code of Virginia, which authorizes the leasing of state-owned bottom for "propagation of shellfish." One management outcome from this study was that the unlimited bycatch provision allowable under the previous crab dredging regulation was recommended for revision and has since been disallowed.

Since 1994 several things have changed on the seaside, which has prompted interest in resurveying dredge activity. Anecdotally, it appears that clam and crab dredge activity may have declined significantly. Therefore, now may be the optimal time to consider elimination of this activity while few people are dependent upon it - this would minimize the economic impact to local waterman. In addition, clam aquaculture has continued to expand throughout the Seaside bays, diminishing the economic demand for wild dredge clams.

There has also been remarkable success in eelgrass restoration in the seaside bays, in large part due to efforts though the Seaside Heritage Program. Clam and crab dredging threatens the success of this restoration effort both by physical destruction of the planted beds, and by the increased turbidity blocking light to the plants.

The VIMS Eastern Shore Lab and VMRC propose to resurvey the annual dredging activity in the seaside bays and compare these findings with 1994 data. Aerial surveys will be conducted from October 2005 through September 2006, sites on public and private grounds with dredging activity will be located, and a GIS map of that activity will be prepared. After the level of spatial distribution of dredging activity is assessed, recommendations for pursuing potential regulatory changes will be formulated.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

James A. Wesson, 757.247.2121;

Project Status:

Project Completed

Final Product Received:

"An Evaluation and Comparison of Dredge Fishing Activity on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore Between 1994 and 2005 - 2006" (PDF)

"Appendices of report - An Evaluation and Comparison of Dredge Fishing Activity on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore Between 1994 and 2005 - 2006" (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Clam dredging and crab dredging are allowed in the shallow bays, coastal lagoons, and guts of the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore on unassigned grounds, in waters which are deeper than 4 feet at mean low water.  There is a public season for this activity from December through March, and clam dredging is allowed year round on private shellfish grounds.  Many local watermen, scientists, and managers have been concerned with this practice for years, and have blamed this activity for the decline in clam stocks on Seaside.  The VCZMP funded an early project entitled, "Evaluation of Dredge Fishing Activities on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore, December 1994 - March 1995."  The Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Wachapreague Laboratory, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission conducted this project.  In this evaluation, it was reported that the dredge fishery was diverse and targets blue crabs, hard clams, and blood clams, depending on availability and tides.  The fishery was quite small even at that time, but the practice did appear damaging to clam stocks, and seemed, inconsistent with the shallow, nursery type habitat that is the nature of the Coastal Bays of Seaside.  That report recommended:  1) Not allowing crab and clam dredging to occur simultaneously on the same vessel, and this was adopted by the VMRC Commission in 1995, 2) Modification or redesigning of the clam dredge itself, which has not been done to date, 3) and that the clam dredging practice should be discouraged on private shellfish leases, which has been mostly implemented.

Since there had been a significant decline in clam dredge licenses at VMRC from 1995, funding was requested from VCZMP for a reevaluation of clam dredging for 2005-2006.  Aerial surveys were conducted for an entire year.  No clam dredging was observed on private shellfish grounds for the entire survey.  The activity during the public season was significantly less in 2005-2006 than in 1994-1995 (2.9 boats/day versus 5.3 boats/day) for clam dredging and for crab dredging (0.4 boats/day versus 6.4 boats/day).  The GPS positions that were recorded for dredge boats was plotted on GIS maps, and in a significant number of cases, dredge boats were in waters less than 4 feet at mean low water, and on public or private grounds where they were not supposed to be dredging.

In conjunction with the presentation of these findings to the VMRC Commission in January 2007, there was a request to allow clam dredging and crab dredging to occur simultaneously on the same boat, as had been the practice prior to 1995.  The Commission voted at that meeting to allow this practice to occur again, and recommended that a study committee be formed to address this size and weight of the clam dredges that could be used.  The allowance of harvesting both species was a significant setback for the progress that had been made in controlling dredging on Seaside, but it could be, however, a positive step if the dredge size could be regulated to some extent.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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