For the first time in about 15 years, Virginia officials voted to lift a prohibition on a winter dredge fishery for blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland officials and nonprofit leaders quickly objected to and denounced the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s 5-4 vote on Tuesday.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz said in a statement the reason blue crabs have seen a rebounding population since a steep drop in the 2000s can be “directly traced” to collaborative management between Maryland and Virginia.

“Today’s action by Virginia breaks with this successful approach,” Kurtz said in a statement.

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“A decision of this magnitude should have only been made with the support of scientists, in close consultation with Maryland officials, and in response to a significant increase in the blue crab population,” he added.

Zach Widgeon, a spokesperson for the commission, said the vote does not establish a winter dredging fishery. Instead, he said, staff at the commission will research the viability of establishing one and present their findings in September.

“This is not us saying, ‘Hey, winter dredging is back,’” Widgeon said.

Commission staff recommended maintaining the status quo for blue crab harvest in Virginia, Widgeon said, which is what the commission voted to do. The vote today does not increase harvest levels in Virginia waters.

Widgeon said that even if a winter dredge season is established, it could be shorter than in the past — and that there would likely be fewer participants, which would in theory mean smaller harvest numbers.

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Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Chris Moore said in statement the decision puts “the prospect of a healthy blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay in jeopardy.”

The organization’s Maryland executive director, Allison Colden, said the vote “represents a major breakdown in the cooperative management of blue crabs across the Chesapeake Bay.”

Chesapeake Bay blue crab numbers are down slightly this year, according to the latest survey results. The winter dredge survey, which is the only baywide estimate of blue crabs independent of fisheries, has been conducted since the 1990s as a collaboration between Maryland and Virginia.

Winter dredging primarily targets female crabs, according to the bay foundation and the state of Maryland. A winter dredge would involve scraping the bottom of the bay to harvest semi-dormant crabs.

Right now, crabbing in Virginia is only allowed between March and the middle of December, according to The Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In its statement opposing Virginia’s vote, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation noted the most recent estimate places the population of adult female crabs at 133 million — down from 152 million last year and far below the target level of 215 million “needed for a healthy population and sustainable harvest in the Chesapeake Bay.”