Crab Harvest Restricted to Benefit Birds
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, March 19, 2004 (ENS) - Fishery managers have announced strict harvest limits on horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay and have agreed to new conservation measures to further protect the species.
The Delaware Bay is inhabited by the largest population of American horseshoe crabs. Considered "a living fossil" the species has barely changed in some 250 million years.
The decision was announced last week by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Horseshoe Crab Management Board, which said its intent is to "increase the abundance of horseshoe crab eggs to meet the energetic requirements of migratory shorebirds that stopover in the Delaware Bay."
The board voted 12 to three to restrict the harvest of horseshoe crab and prohibit commercial harvest and landings from May 1 through June 7 - the prime spawning season.
Each spring during the high tides of new and full moons the crabs descend on the Delaware Bay to spawn.
These new restrictions will go into effect in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. New Jersey and Delaware have each set a commercial harvest limit of 150,000 crabs - Maryland's limit is 170,000. New York has also agreed to limit its catch to 150,000 crabs.
The board agreed to encourage bait saving techniques; horseshoe crabs are primarily harvested as bait for the conch fishery.
Conservationists including the National Audubon Society welcomed the decision, which comes amid renewed warnings that the horseshoe crab population may be declining along with several species of migratory shorebirds that depend on the crabs for food.
Migrating shorebirds stop over on Delaware Bay beaches each spring to feed on the rich eggs of the horseshoe crabs.
New Jersey officials say the migrating shorebird species most in peril if horseshoe crabs decline is the Western Hemisphere's Red Knot. Scientists predict the Red Knot could be extinct within six years.
The migratory shorebirds travel more than 18,000 miles each year, often as many as 2,500 miles non-stop from their wintering home in Brazil to their summer home in the Arctic. The Delaware Bay is their last stop en route to the Arctic. There they eat enough horseshoe crab eggs to double their weight so that they can survive their long migration.