On February 27, New Jersey and Delaware announced new emergency restrictions on the harvest of horseshoe crabs scheduled to go into effect this spring to protect the crab population and the migratory shorebirds that feed on their eggs. All harvest would be closed from May 1 to June 7 and landings for both Delaware and New Jersey would be capped at 150,000 crabs per state, 50% of the current cap. The plan also calls for a public outreach program to educate the public about the consequences of disturbing feeding shorebirds.
This plan does not go far enough and a coalition of environmental groups including New Jersey Audubon, Sierra Club and the Littoral Society are still calling for a moratorium. They also call for a reasonable economic displacement package for the impacted fisheries.
At their March 6 meeting, the NJ Marine Fisheries Council considered a resolution supporting the New Jersey-Delaware restrictions. The Council deadlocked in a 6 to 6 vote on the resolution. What we would rather see is an emergency order from the Governor stopping the horseshoe crab harvest altogether. Two WCAS board members-Frank Bader and MaryMargaret Halsey-braved the icy storm to attend the 6 ½-hour meeting in Galloway Twp. and gave testimony in support of a moratorium, as did several coalition representatives . Several of our other members FAXed their comments to the Council.
Our representatives reported that the meeting room was packed. Predictably, quite a few crabbers were present and extremely vocal, shouting accusations of "bogus results", "lying" and "forgery" on the part of those seeking to curtail the harvest. It is interesting to note that in the earlier part of the meeting dealing with sport and commercial fishing the stakeholders were civil, reasoned and supportive of conservation measures.
Scientific research conducted by the Division of Fish & Wildlife and international experts clearly show that the overharvest of horseshoe crabs, which are used as bait for conch and eel, is a critical threat to this food source for nearly one million shorebirds. According to the coalition, the overharvest of crabs will result in the extinction of the rufa subspecies of the Red Knot by 2010. They also point out that every injectable medicine and medical implant is tested with a horseshoe crab blood derivative product, Limulus Amebosyte Lysate. Crabs are returned live to the water after the extraction. Also, the NJ Delaware Bay ecotourism industry is valued at up to $34 million a year and the biomedical industry is estimated at up to $150 million per year. The entire Atlantic coast horseshoe crab bait industry is valued at around $14 million per year. Ironically, overharvest will result in collapse of the baymen's industry. There are 34 licensed horseshoe crab harvesters.
The coalition is determined to save the Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs and the shorebirds that depend on them. Should the moratorium be rejected litigation is an option. They also have launched an effort to list the Red Knot as a federal endangered species. Washington Crossing Audubon fully supports these efforts.
What you can do: Many WCAS members have joined environmentalists around the state in writing to the Governor. If you have not already done so, please take this simple step today. Write a short letter to the Governor and ask him to take the following conservation steps: (a) Declare an immediate moratorium on NJ horseshoe crab harvest; (b) Support regional efforts with states including Delaware to better address this shared resource; (c) Support an Atlantic coast (Maine to Florida) horseshoe crab stock assessment.
Write to: The Honorable James McGreevey, Governor of New Jersey, State House, P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625-0001.
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