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New Jersey and Delaware Join Forces to Protect Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab:
Joint Plea Made to Federal Commission to Establish Coast-Wide Harvest Quota

(03/21) Trenton— In response to an increasing decline in the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population, the states of New Jersey and Delaware today announced a joint Horseshoe Crab Management Plan that will reduce by half each state's annual harvest quota and prohibit all harvesting activities during the horseshoe crabs' prime spawning season from May 1 through June 7.

"The Delaware Bay is a shared resource and drastic measures are called for on both sides of the waterway to address the alarming decline of the horseshoe crab population and wildlife that depends on horseshoe crab eggs as a primary food source," said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. "Aggressive actions like the harvest moratorium will help ensure maximum protection for these declining and threatened populations."

In the past three years, the concentration of horseshoe crab eggs on important shorebird feeding beaches in New Jersey has declined in some places by almost 50 percent. In 2002, on 4 of 5 beaches in Delaware, the egg availability has declined between 35 percent to over 93 percent. Consequently, the seasonal weight gains for Red Knots, a state endangered shorebird species most dependent on eggs available on the beach surface, have declined dramatically from 1997 to 2002 impacting their ability to fuel for their trek to the Arctic nesting grounds. The number of Red Knots reaching weights sufficient to make the trek to the Arctic has declined from 33,741 in 1998 to 5,376 in 2002.

As part of the joint Horseshoe Crab Management Plan, New Jersey and Delaware are initiating:

  • A moratorium on all (including bycatch, personal use, hand-harvest from beaches/back-bays and dredging) horseshoe crab harvests from May 1 to June 7 to maximize egg resources available to migrating shorebirds;

  • A cap on total horseshoe crab harvests for both Delaware and New Jersey at 150,000 crabs per state (a 50 percent reduction) to increase the likelihood of long-term sustainability;

  • Mandatory use of bait-saving devices in whelk pots using horseshoe crabs for bait to limit the demand for horseshoe crabs;

  • Limited access on specific areas of important bird-feeding beaches during specific times between May 1 to June 7 to allow the shorebirds to feed without disruption; and

  • Reduced research coordinated by the states to limit disturbance of feeding shorebirds.

"Delaware and New Jersey are cooperatively proposing a coherent conservation program to protect both horseshoe crabs and shorebirds," said John A. Hughes, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "I hope that all of the other Atlantic States will take their own measures to support this."

In addition to the New Jersey and Delaware agreement, both states are requesting that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Horseshoe Crab Management Board consider capping other Atlantic coast states' 2003 horseshoe crab bait harvest quotas at the 2001 levels, as well as investigate coast-wide measures to reduce crab mortality caused by the biomedical use of horseshoe crabs.

The blood of Horseshoe crabs is used to produce lysate, which is a substance used in biomedical testing. Current reports indicate that in addition to the estimated 5 to 15 percent mortality caused by the biomedical industry during the crab bleeding process, another 10 to 15 percent of bled crabs are destroyed in the process of collecting, handling and shipping. The amount of crabs taken for the bleeding process on a coast-wide basis has increased from approximately 130,000 in 1989 to 300,000 today.

New Jersey and Delaware will be working with the biomedical industry to further protect horseshoe crab and shorebird populations.



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Last Updated: July 14, 2010