New Bill Would End Protections for Horseshoe Crabs

A bill to end the moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting would have devastating impacts on migratory shore birds and ecotourism

Thursday the Assembly Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee could consider a bill that would have devastating impacts on endangered and threatened shore birds.  Bill A2653 (Albano) would overturn the moratorium on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs in New Jersey. 

New Jersey’s moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting was put in place because of the importance of the species’ eggs to migratory shore bird populations.  The loss of horseshoe crabs over the years has threatened these shore birds, especially the red knot which was listed as a federal endangered species this year. 

This move would be especially dangerous now as many of the beaches the horseshoe crabs use for breeding have been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.  There are concerns that there is not going to be enough beach to support the egg density needed to supply the birds with enough food. 

Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecosystem.  Without the horseshoe crab the red knot would disappear.  This legislation would hurt not only the red knot but many other migratory birds that depend on the Delaware Bay for their survival.  This legislation is not only short sighted but dangerous.  It could cause the extinction of the red knot and other species.  We urge the Committee to reject this bill on Thursday. This bill takes the side of special interests over public purpose.

New Jersey is a critical stopover for the red knot, which migrates each year from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic Circle, where it breeds.  While in New Jersey, red knots fill up on horseshoe crab eggs, often multiplying their weight six times over, to sustain themselves for the remainder of the journey.  Without this stop they would die. 

Before the moratorium, the red knot population was plummeting by almost 10% a year, from 100,000 down to about 15,000.  Now the population has begun rebounding with latest figures around 24,000. 

Although the horseshoe crab moratorium has succeeded in stabilizing the horseshoe crab population in New Jersey, numbers are still far too low to support the red knot and other shore birds.  Current egg densities are about 2,000 per acre.  In order to allow migratory shore bird populations to increase, scientists have determined that these densities must rise to 50,000 per acre – a 2,500% increase.  A recent survey found practically no change in egg density from 2005 to 2010.  

In the 1990’s over 700,000 horseshoe crabs were taken from the Delaware Bay annually.  With the moratorium in place that number has dropped to between 60,000 to 100,000, taken in Delaware waters.  Because of this the population has stabilized and increases are beginning to be achieved. 

Four years ago New Jersey signed landmark legislation to protect the horseshoe crab and endangered migratory shore birds.  This legislation not only violates the national Migratory Bird Act but the federal Endangered Species Act as well.  We will fight this unconscionable bill in the courts if necessary.

Horseshoe crabs are harvested and cut as bait for eels, catfish, and conch.  The most recent economic figures put the total cost of bait produced from these harvests at about $100,000 a year.  By contrast, a 2006 study found that tourism based on observing migratory shore birds brings $34 million a year into Cape May County each year.  Horseshoe crabs are also harvested by biomedical companies which use their blood in products.  Using the horseshoe crabs for bait could resulting in overfishing, hurting the biomedical industry that depends on this species for testing.   

We should not destroy an ecosystem and allow migratory birds to go extinct by ending the moratorium.  This is one of the most short-sided pieces of legislation ever and will end up jeopardizing our ecotourism industry.

The Sierra Club has recognized the Delaware Bayshore as one of the nation’s most important treasures that are currently in peril – a list that also includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other unique ecosystems – and intends to take action to save this region and the endangered species that inhabit it.

This would hurt ecotourism the largest economic sector for the Delaware Bay Shore.  We shouldn’t be destroying the local economy and an endangered species, and hurting the biomedical industry for bait.

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Kathy Giaquinto January 22, 2013 at 07:34 PM
You are crazy.
ChristineBalint January 30, 2013 at 01:33 AM
We need to keep protections on for horseshoe crabs. They're integral to our bayshore ecosystems and far too many species depend on them for survival to compromise their reduced numbers at this time.
Mick Foley January 30, 2013 at 01:59 AM
They are not even close to being endangered. Another insane ploy from the tree huggers.
Clammer January 30, 2013 at 09:58 PM
What has not been mentioned, is the fact the problem with the Rednots has not been identified. These environmental groups hired high-priced marketing firms and used flawed data and emotions to push the original NJ horseshoe crab bill through. (They are not able to hoodwink the scientific ASMFC). The data they used to blame a few commercial bait fishermen is really laughable. Considering for at least 50 years prior to 1980 horseshoe crabs were used as fertilizer by the millions, I remember the horseshoe crabs piled higher than the barn. They used pound nets, dump trucks and backhoes. What was the Rednot popuation in 1980? What was the Horseshoe crab population in 1980 with unregulated fishing and no harvest quota ? What is the hunting bag limit on Rednots in South America in 2013? hint, truck load.
Clammer January 30, 2013 at 10:20 PM
FALSE-- the Rednot is NOT on the Federal endangered list or the threatened list!


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