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July 19, 1999

For more information contact:
Peter J. Himchak at 609-748-2020

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife is encouraging the general public to assist in identifying horseshoe crab nursery habitat throughout the state this summer. Collecting information on critical habitat is the result of an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Fishery Management Plan for Horseshoe Crabs adopted last October.

The plan requires that all coastal states from Maine to Florida identify potential horseshoe crab spawning and nursery habitat for species monitoring purposes in 1999. While many Delaware Bay beaches and some Atlantic coastal bay beaches are traditionally known to support horseshoe crab reproduction/growth, the Division would appreciate current, personal observations documenting locations of nursery habitat for young, developing horseshoe crabs.

The horseshoe crab spawning season in the mid-Atlantic area usually occurs during May and June when large numbers of horseshoe crabs move onto sandy beaches to mate and lay eggs. Spawning habitat generally includes sandy beach areas within bays and coves that are protected from significant wave action. Male and female horseshoe crabs are coupled during mating and egg-laying. Juvenile horseshoe crabs hatch from the egg clusters deposited in the beach sediments and move from the beach environment to spend their first two years in shallow water near shore. Juvenile horseshoe crabs must molt, or shed their exoskeleton (outer shell) to grow. Molting occurs several times during the first two to three years for developing horseshoe crabs. The shed exoskeletons, or casts, are generally one to four inches in size and remain after the molting process. The presence of casts washed up on beaches indicates nearby nursery habitat.

The Division is working in cooperation with Limuli Laboratories, in Cape May Court House, to document the public's observations of potential nursery habitat as evidenced by the presence of horseshoe crab casts. Individuals can report observations to the Limuli Laboratory toll-free at 1-877-TAG-CRAB.

When calling, include date, time and location of observation (be as specific as possible) and leave your name and telephone number in the event information needs to be clarified. All information will be analyzed, summarized and reported to the Division and ASMFC, so that critical horseshoe crab spawning and nursery habitat may be protected.