Recreational Crabbing Rules



All information provided below is summarized from the Code of Virginia and VMRC Regulations. Please refer to the Code sections and Regulations cited for legal documentation. All regulations are subject to change.

Licensing Information

The following activities do not require a license in Virginia [ Code 28.2-226 ]:

The use of the following gears require a license for “recreational use of commercial gear”. Each of these licenses shall be issued to an individual for their exclusive use [ Code 28.2-226.2 , 4VAC20-670-20 ]:

Buying a License

To use a rod-and-reel requires a Saltwater Recreational Fishing License, unless exempted. Saltwater Recreational Fishing Licenses may only be purchased from DWR. (Purchase license HERE or see more license info HERE)


It is unlawful for any person to place, set, or fish or knowingly leave any hard crab pot or peeler pot in any Virginia tidal waters from December 1 through March 16.

Possession Limits

All recreational crabbing is limited to 1 bushel of hard crabs and 2 dozen peeler crabs per person per day. [ Code 28.2-226, 4VAC20-670-25 ]

The “bushel” is a volumetric measurement, roughly equal to 40 pounds.

Size Limits

&nbsp&nbsp (As measured from tip-to-tip of the longest spikes)

Hard Crabs


5 inches

Code 28.2-708

Immature female

5 inches

Mature female

No size limit

Peeler Crabs

March 17-July 15

3.25 inches


July 16-November 30

3.5 inches

Seaside Eastern Shore

3.25 inches

Softshell Crabs

3.5 inches

Male “Jimmy”: Washington MonumentFemale “Sook”: US Capitol

Sponge Crabs

From March 17 through June 15, you can only keep bright orange sponge crabs (1-5 above). All brown to black sponge crabs must be returned to the water (6-15 above).

From June 16 through March 16, you can keep any sponge crabs [ 4VAC20-370-20 ].

Why? Bright orange crabs are less likely to survive if thrown back. The darker crabs will release their eggs sooner than the lighter crabs (the color darkens as the eggs develop), so they’re hardier. Many people choose to return all sponge crabs to the water as a conservation measure.

Gear Marking

Buoys of any crab pot or crab trotline, and an offshore stake of any crab pound/trap, used for recreational purposes, shall be marked legibly with the last 4 numbers of the licensee’s social security number or driver’s license number, preceded with the letter “R”; these figures must be at least 1 inch in height. [ 4VAC20-670-40 ].

Other Crabbing and Crab Gear Regulations

It is illegal to:

• &nbsp Use more than 5 crab pots per licensee recreationally [ 4VAC20-670-30 ]. • &nbsp Fish 3-5 pots with the 5 pot license on Sundays [ 4VAC20-670-30 ] • &nbsp Crab recreationally within Virginia Blue Crab Sanctuary Area 1A from June 1 through September 15, in Sanctuary Area 1B from May 16 through September 15, and in Sanctuary Area 3 from May 9 through September 15. For GPS coordinates of the sanctuaries, see 4VAC20-752 {MAP}.

A recreational crab pot must have at least two unobstructed cull rings at least 2 3/8 inches inside diameter cull rings located one each in opposite exterior side panels of the upper chamber of the pot [ 4VAC20-700-20 ].

On the seaside of Accomack & Northampton Counties, each pot must have two cull rings: one cull ring at least 2 5/16 inches inside diameter and another at least 2 3/16 inches inside diameter located one each in opposite exterior side panels of the upper chamber of the pot [ 4VAC20-700-20 ].

Each crab pound/trap 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) of the retention box [ 4VAC20-460-50 ].

Any law or regulation applying to the setting or fishing of crab pound/traps or crab trot lines shall also apply when those gears are set or fished for recreational purposes [ 4VAC20-670-30 ].

For more information on Recreational Use of Commercial Gear, see 4VAC20-670-10.

For more information on crab traps and pounds, see 4VAC20-460-10.

For more information on the blue crab fishery, see 4VAC20-270-55.

Recreational Reporting

Any person catching finfish or shellfish using a licensed recreational gillnet, cast net, dip net, 5 crab pots, crab trap, crab trotline, or eel pot must report harvest annually to the Commission [ 4VAC20-670-10 ]. You can report online through the Virginia Saltwater Journal or by mailing in paper forms found here.

Crabbing in Maryland and the Potomac River

Maryland recreational regulations.

Potomac River recreational regulations (includes map of jurisdictions on and around the Potomac River):


Jimmy: A male hard crab with a narrow apron on the abdomen.

Sook: A mature female hard crab with a semicircular apron.

Sponge crab: 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: 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.

Softshell crab: A crab which has recently emerged from its old shell. The new shell is soft and tender.

Page updated: 02:04 PM Wednesday, May 24, 2024

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>