Orders Horseshoe Crab Harvest Cut in Half
rely on horseshoe crab eggs could soon be extinct, research
(03/63) TRENTON - Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell
today signed an emergency order halving New Jersey's annual
horseshoe crab harvest and prohibiting all harvesting during
the horseshoe crabs' prime spawning season from May 1 through
New Jersey is acting jointly with Delaware,
which adopted similar restrictions Friday, in an effort
to protect a rapidly declining population of migrating shorebirds
that stop over each spring on Delaware Bay beaches to feed
on the fat-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab.
"Sudden and dramatic declines in horseshoe
crab and shorebird populations make clear that prompt action
is needed to protect these resources," Campbell said.
"I am grateful to Delaware Secretary John Hughes for
joining us in a common sense, bi-state approach."
Studies show the concentration of horseshoe
crab egg on the bay shore has declined significantly over
the past decade, leaving many shorebirds without enough
eggs to eat. Unable to gain sufficient weight during their
Delaware Bay stop over, many shorebirds lack the energy
to complete their Arctic migration and reproduce. Most in
peril is the Western Hemisphere's Red Knot population, a
state-threatened species that scientists predict could be
extinct within 7 years.
"We need to bear in mind that our
shorebird and horseshoe crab populations are indicators
of the health of the bay as a whole," Campbell said.
"By acting today, we aim not only to prevent the dire
future predicted for the Red Knot, but also to preserve
the ecological balance throughout Delaware Bay."
Delaware Bay's beaches are the principal
egg-laying grounds for the world's largest concentration
of horseshoe crabs, and they attract the Western Hemisphere's
second largest spring concentration of migrating shorebirds.
The spring shorebird migration is one of the prime attractions
of the $34 million ecotourism industry in Cape May and Cumberland
The order signed today:
- Cuts the 2003 commercial harvest to 150,000 horseshoe
crabs, a 50 percent reduction.
- Bans horseshoe crab harvesting from May 1 through June
7 in order to safeguard horseshoe crab eggs for shorebird
- Requires the use of bait-saving devices in conch pots.
Horseshoe crabs are harvested primarily as bait for the
conch fishery, and these devices reduce demand for horseshoe
crabs by extending the effective fishing time of bait
in the water.
- Requires harvesters to report their catch to the DEP
by telephone every week in order to prevent over harvesting.
The commissioner also announced plans today
to limit access to certain portions of Delaware Bay beaches
where horseshoe crabs are known to spawn and where shorebirds
The affected sections of beach in Lower,
Middle and Downe townships will be closed only for 11 days
in order to minimize human disturbance of the shorebirds
while they feed. The beach restrictions coincide with the
new and full moons, when horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird
feeding are at their peak.
"By minimizing disturbances to feeding
shorebirds, we can help them complete their long Arctic
flight," Campbell said. "If successful, these
actions could help prevent the Red Knot from being listed
as a federally endangered species, a status that would come
with a host of additional restrictions on beach access and
horseshoe crab harvests."
On May 17 and 18 and May 24 to June 1,
DEP staff will limit access at portions of specific beaches
in the Villas, as well as portions of Reeds Beach, Cook's
Beach, Kimbles Beach, Norbury's Landing, Pierces Point,
Sunray Beach and Raybins Beach.
The closed areas will be marked with printed
signs and rope fencing from the street end to the water's
edge. DEP staff will be present to educate the public about
the interaction between the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs
and the need to let the birds feed undisturbed.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources
and Environmental Control (DNREC) also plans to limit access
to certain bay beaches during peak shorebird migration.
Delaware also has enacted a harvest moratorium from May
1 to June 7 and a 50 percent reduction in the number of
horseshoe crabs to be harvested this year.
In addition to cooperating on this bay-wide
effort, the two states are asking the Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Horseshoe Crab Management
Board to consider capping other Atlantic coast states' 2003
horseshoe crab bait harvest quotas at 2001 levels and to
investigate measures to reduce horseshoe crab mortality
in the biomedical industry.
Finally, the DEP is urging the public to
report their observations of horseshoe crab spawning activity
by calling (866) NJ-CATCH toll free, or by visiting www.njfishandwildlife.com
and accessing the form entitled "Identification
of Horseshoe Crab Spawning Habitat in the Inlets and Bays
of New Jersey."