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  • Ken Perrotte

Changes to Virginia Freshwater Fishing Regs Announced, Plus Launch Fees & Camping Restrictions

The board of Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources held a “virtual” meeting October 22, 2020 to review various programs and to approve proposed changes to aquatic wildlife regulations. The revised regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Among the many approved regulatory changes are implementing a 9-inch minimum size limit for yellow perch below the fall line in all coastal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay and expanding James and York River blue catfish regulations to the Rappahannock. Angler can still catch and keep an unlimited amount of blue cats, but only one fish larger than 32 inches long may be retained.

The catfish regulation has a twofold aim: first, it benefits the trophy angler fishery; second, it keeps people from eating these larger fish, which are known to carry larger loads of contaminants in their flesh.

The DWR has made it clear it doesn't want people stocking nonnative fish in Virginia waters. For example, Alabama bass are now established in some bodies of water. Anglers catching these bass can release them, but only back into the body of water from which they were caught. This is akin to the snakehead rule. Any fish removed from a body of water must be killed before transporting. Spotted bass, prolific in many southern states and resembling Alabama bass, are now on the list of species restricted from stocking.

Speaking of snakeheads, gigging these shallow-water predators will now be permitted in Potomac River tributaries as well as portions of the Rappahannock below the fall line.

Two changes related to camping on DWR lands and increasing opportunities for the agency to charge boating access fees.

In tightening up rules for camping on wildlife management areas, campers will need to get a “camping authorization form” from Camping will be limited to 14 nights within any 28-day period, which makes one think that some people may be living on WMA lands. Camping must be away from any facilities and campers will not be allowed to clear vegetation. How this may relate to scrounging for dead firewood was not explained.

Although one may think it should go without saying, campers must remove all personal property and clean up after themselves when leaving -- sad to have to codify that, but some people are slobs. Don't be a slob...

A boat launch fee amendment is one hunters and anglers should applaud. Currently, a daily fee of $3 or an annual fee equal to the price of a basic state resident hunting or fishing license is needed to access or use wildlife management areas. Under the change, all department-owned lands and boat launch sites are subject to the fee. People with valid hunting, trapping or fishing licenses, or a current DWR certificate of boat registration are exempt from paying the fee. The fee applies to the owner/operator of the vessel and not the passengers.

Public Comments Sought on Hunting Regulations

Also covered in the meeting was the biennial process for changing regulations guiding hunting, trapping, wildlife and public lands recreational opportunities. A public comment period precedes the drafting of proposed regulations. This year’s scoping period began Oct. 12 and ends Dec. 11, 2020.

Agency staff members review and summarize all public comments. These are presented at the January board meeting. Potential amendments are presented in March, with the May meeting seeing final action take place on the proposals.

You are only allowed 500 characters each to describe your specific recommendation change and the primary concern or issue you want your recommendation to correct. I suggest trying to use that full allocation to make your case. Bringing facts to the argument is always helpful.

To participate in the public scoping period, complete the online form at Or, you can email comments to


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