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Conservation IssuesHorseshoe Crab Harvest Moratorium Is Needed
Pat Sziber

Horseshoe Crab Harvest Moratorium Is Needed
Pat Sziber

A year and a half ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service created a horseshoe crab sanctuary off the mouth of Delaware Bay. In the late 1990's, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland enacted tough regulations limiting the harvest of horseshoe crabs, most of which are used as bait for eel and conch. In spite of these actions, horseshoe crab numbers continue to fall alarmingly, almost certainly headed for a population crash. Of particular concern is the decline in females of breeding age, as evidenced by the paucity of eggs which are an essential food source for several species of long-distance migratory shorebirds. Anyone who was fortunate enough to witness the tens of thousands of red knots, semi-palmated sandpipers, sanderlings and ruddy turnstones refueling along the shores of Delaware Bay a decade ago can attest that their numbers are a shocking fraction of what they were then.

Our partner in conservation, New Jersey Audubon Society, has taken the lead in fighting for a complete moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs to replace the limits currently in place for our state. WCAS is proud to join them in this effort and we have pledged our commitment to help make this campaign a success. We urge our members and friends to join in this effort. Here are some facts you should know:

  • Nine species of shorebirds feed on horseshoe crab eggs on Delaware Bay beaches during spring migration. For many, this is the most important feeding stop on their long flight from South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. They arrive here nearly starved and must regain their weight in order to continue their flight and arrive in the Arctic in sound breeding condition.
  • There has been a 54% decline in the number of wintering Red Knots in Tierra del Fuego since 2000. The numbers this year were 30% lower than last. Other shorebird species are also in significant decline. There is strong evidence that these declines are due to reduced breeding success brought on by inadequate feeding on their trip north.
  • Horseshoe crab egg counts on the Delaware Bay show an alarming decline in the amount of eggs available to foraging shorebirds. This is consistent with Delaware survey trawl data showing a 75% decline in horseshoe crabs in 11 years.
  • Horseshoe crabs are a long-lived species, not reaching sexual maturation until 9 years of age.
  • Currently, harvesting is allowed to occur even though no stock assessment has been completed.
  • Studies show daily weight gains of red knots and semipalmated sandpipers have dropped precipitously. Many birds leave the Delaware Bay without enough fat reserves to reach their Arctic breeding grounds.
  • A report to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection valued 1998 Delaware Bay ecotourism at $34 million. The US Fish & Wildlife Service values the biomedical industry's use of horseshoe crab blood, a nonlethal usage, at $150 million per year. They similarly value the combined horseshoe crab/eel and conch fisheries at $32 million per year. Therefore, the non-lethal ecotourism and biomedical industries out-value the fisheries 6 to 1.

What you can do: Write a letter to Gov. James McGreevey asking him to declare an emergency order to stop the harvest of horseshoe crabs. Ask him to (1) immediately institute a moratorium on NJ horseshoe crab harvest; (2) support regional efforts with other states, including Delaware, to better address this shared resource; and, (3) support an Atlantic coast (Maine to Florida) and New Jersey horseshoe crab stock assessment. Write to: The Honorable James McGreevey, Governor of New Jersey, State House, P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625-0001. For the salutation, "Dear Governor McGreevey." You must include your name and address on your letter. For a sample letter and other information, visit the NJ Audubon website www.njaudubon.org.



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Last revision: Sunday, August 18, 2002 - 07:35 PM