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Red knot count slims
Fewer birds feasting on horseshoe crab eggs along Delaware Bay

By BRIAN IANIERI Staff Writer, (609) 463-6713

Red knots may be starving and freezing their way to extinction.

Red knots, shore birds that fatten up on the Delaware Bay during a 10,000-mile spring migration, had their population nearly cut in half this year, said Larry Niles, chief of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Non-game Species Program.

Last year, while red knot populations decreased along the Delaware Bay, officials said their numbers had remained stable in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. Perhaps many of the birds just weren't visiting here anymore.

But after an annual count in Tierra del Fuego earlier this year, officials reported only 17,653 red knots, compared with 30,778 in 2004, Niles said.

"We're facing a big problem this year because the numbers now are getting so low the population could collapse on its own," Niles said. "This year, we're not sure what's going to happen on the bay."

The birds eat the tiny, green eggs that horseshoe crabs deposit on the bay's sandy beaches. Red knots feast on the fat-rich eggs and nearly double their weight during an important stop on their way to nesting grounds in the Arctic tundra.

Officials blame decreasing numbers of horseshoe crabs for contributing to the birds' decline. Also, last summer, state environmental officials traveled to the Arctic and found the birds were still laying eggs when they should have been hatching, Niles said. A delay of several weeks can be fatal in severe weather conditions, he said.

"We think there was a significant mortality related to that," he said.

Officials will count red knots on the Delaware Bay this month. The results will lead to more information regarding the status of the red knots, which are listed as a threatened species in New Jersey.

"If the numbers in the Delaware Bay will go down, that means the mortality is more widespread than just the birds that were bypassing the bay," Niles said.

Alarms have been sounded for several years about whether fishermen have been harvesting too many horseshoe crabs, which are used for medical purposes and as a bait to catch conch and eels. Restrictions have been imposed. There is no May harvesting in New Jersey, and beaches where they drop eggs have been closed to the public.

Last year, Niles co-authored a paper that predicted the extinction of red knots by 2010 if trends continue. Niles said this year's count in Tierra del Fuego proved in line with that prediction.

However, Niles said, much can be done to stop that.

Keeping people off the beaches where the birds dine remains a priority. Anything that would scare off the birds or eat their food - such as dogs or sea gulls - also could have a negative impact.

In an experiment to keep gulls from eating horseshoe crab eggs, officials in the next few weeks will place wires over areas with good egg concentrations to exclude the larger gulls but allow the smaller red knots through. They will also try to find ways to scare off the gulls, Niles said.

"Gulls aren't the problem because 10 years ago there were enough eggs for everybody," he said.

Dan Hernandez, a researcher with the Wetlands Institute and assistant professor at conservation biology at Richard Stockton College, is conducting a survey on horseshoe crab populations with the help of college interns.

They are surveying beaches from Fortescue in Cumberland County to the Villas section of Lower Township, Cape May County, he said.

They measure samples of horseshoe crabs for a survey that will extend into June, he said. But right now, the water is too cold for many horseshoe crabs to hit the beaches.

Hernandez said he saw about 100 red knots in the marshes near Stone Harbor on Friday.

Hernandez, who has been to the Artic and Tierra del Fuego to study red knots, admires the birds for their long, annual trips. He took an airplane from Philadelphia to Tierra del Fuego, a trip that, with stopovers, took almost an entire day.

"That's a long haul," he said.

To e-mail Brian Ianieri at The Press:

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Nightstrikes I urge you and anybody else that is interested in this topic to attend the next State of NJ marine fishery council meeting. That is July 7th at 4:00 pm Galloway township library.

Larry Niles has been proven to be misleading the public with his lame findings. Last Thursday was the best he contradicted himself several times. Please go to the meetings and watch and listen.

These press releases should not even be able to be printed they do nothing but misled the general public. That is wrong !!!!!!!

He also said on the record that will be published after the next meeting that there is only 30,000 Sea Gulls along the Del Bay.

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Larry is a state employee Right ???? I thought State employees were not allowed to venture out of the state on work related business.

So Then just who is funding all of these trips Hummmmmmmm ??????

Can you say the Audubon society.

If there wasn't a shortage of birds then Larry would have to sit in Trenton instead of sunny South America !!!

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Now we all know that the gulls don't eat the crab eggs they eat the Red knots.

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Curious Marty, can you explain why there are so few horseshoe crabs? I can remember as a kid seeing them all over the place and catching them so frequently it was a pain in the neck. I can pretty much count on 2 hands the number I have caught in the past 10 years. Might it be that guys are out there snatching them up as they try to lay eggs? There is something just so shortsighted about taking animals when they are trying to breed. If the horseshoe crabbers really want them, give them a season where they have to trap them, rather than simply walking along the beach collecting them like so many seashells.

Before you jump to conclusions and make statements about State Employees being funded by the Audubon Society, I suggest you call the appropriate State office and find out the truth. Misinformation starts with misunderstanding and is perpetuated with miscommunication.

While there may be other contributing factors in the reduction of specie after specie, One cannot completely discount and defend those effects brought on by those collecting the resource for profit. If I bring one truck load to market One gets 20 dollars, so why not bring in 20 truckloads? Oh and don't tell me about the trip/daily limit on the Shoes....There was a time when that was not the case, and truckload after truckload were brought to dealers.

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Jim the truth of the matter is that there is not a shortages of crabs there is a shortage of beaches. During the past two summers there has been a trawl survey and tagging performed by Comm Fishermen under the very watchful eye of State of NJ biologist. Those Tagging efforts alone were proof itself. They tagged some 17,000 crabs in three outings. FYI that was done with three boats pulling a 8 foot dredge. In layman's terms incredible.

As I started my post with: Everybody needs to go to the NJ marine council meetings and watch and listen. Facts are facts Go listen and draw your own conclusion.

Hopefully I can get one of my colleges to come on here and show all of the facts.

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks For That Info, Any Additional Insight
Would Be Much Appreciated,,

Thanks Again,,

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Before ya go trying to find harvest data that is very misleading, Let me give ya a brief history lesson. If ya look at last years harvest reports you will only see that 40,000 crabs were taken out of 150,000 {thats the yearly quota}. Two major reasons the hand harvest is closed when the crabs are on the beach and it has been closed for several years. There is only 27 permits in NJ to harvest crabs I believe only 20 of witch are held by active waterman.

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I have seen Larry Niles at the meeting and I agree with marty about Larry niles he has been dis-credited so many time I can not believe that anyone even listens to him anymore. I hope to fill a little bit more of that crab quota this year FYI

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Anything for the little birdies that spend a whole couple weeks a year in NJ :rolleyes: How bout the millions of NJ residents that are being restricted from the beaches, we are the ones paying taxes to the state year round to live here and use the beaches if we want. Do the birds pay taxes? Commercial fishing issues aside, i beleive Marty and the boy's are onto something about the way our "lib" state officails's for the birds! Pun intended! I wouldn't be surprised if half of them are Peta Contributors!

[ 05-10-2005, 05:57 PM: Message edited by: CaptG ]

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
May 9, 2005

Contact: Karen Hershey
(609) 984-1795


(05/56) TRENTON -- The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that various Delaware Bay beaches will be closed from May 14 to June 7 to protect a rapidly declining population of migrating shorebirds. These birds stop over each spring to feed on the fat-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab.

To protect the migratory shorebirds, DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell issued an emergency order in April 2003, which restricted the horseshoe crab harvest. Beach closures were also implemented to reduce disturbance to feeding shorebirds allowing them ample feeding time to gain the weight they need for a successful flight to their breeding ground in the Arctic.

"We are taking action now, like limiting disturbance to feeding shorebirds, to help prevent birds such as the state threatened Red Knot from becoming a federally endangered species in the future," said Director Martin McHugh, DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife.

DEP staff will limit access at portions of specific beaches in the Villas, Stone Harbor Point and Champagne Island, as well as portions of Fortescue Beach, Gandys Beach, High's Beach, Moores Beach, Reeds Beach, Cook's Beach, Kimbles Beach, Norbury's Landing/Sunray Beach, Pierces Point, High's Beach, Raybins Beach and Rutgers Cape Shore Lab beach. These are important shorebird feeding areas and limiting access will minimize human disturbance of the shorebirds while they feed.

The affected sections of beach in Lower, Middle and Downe townships will be closed for 25 days. The beach restrictions coincide with the new and full moons, when horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird feeding are at their peak.

The closed areas will be marked with printed signs and rope fencing from the street end to the water's edge. DEP staff and volunteers will be present at most beaches to educate the public about the interaction between the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs and the need to let the birds feed undisturbed.

Maps indicating the closed areas are available on DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife web site at:

[ 05-10-2005, 07:08 PM: Message edited by: NIGHTSTRIKES ]

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This topic should get more attention then the Windmills. This cess pool has been filling up for the past 12 years.

A question that everybody should ponder on is. Why is only one side being displayed in the media ???? We all know that there is Two side on every coin.

For the record When I broke out on my own I started fishing for minnows/eels then conch. I No longer fish for any of them , Nor will I fish for them again in the near future. I have moved on to greener pastures. Almost the same time that I lost my right to the crabs I was given back the right to Gill net. So now I have a pile of worthless pots sittin in a field. Dam that was fun while it lasted.

I now fish with nets and long lines, the top two very most hated. Hated by every Enviro nut on the planet. Isn't it ironic how things work, They should have let me keep fishing with crabs.
I'm actually grateful to the Enviro Nuts I never knew what I was missing.

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Hate to disagree with my good buddy Fishpicker but. I am already on his black list so here goes.

I have been down along the bay when the crabs laid their eggs. Years ago the edge of the water was black with the eggs that washed off the sand. As far as you could see there were all kinds of shore birds feeding on them. I don't see that anymore.

We had large populations in our back bays and you could see them crawling around just about any dock at low tide. I don't see that anymore.

These animals are slow movers. they are defenseless against humans and they are predictable as to when and where they will arrive. Combine that with the fact that they became valuable equals trouble.

If someone asked me what animals have made the most drastic decline in our waters over the past twenty years it would be the blowfish, Horseshoe crab and the weakfish. If my life depended on catching any of the three I would starve to death in a week.

Lets face the facts. Horseshoe crabs aren't edible. They are used for conch, eel and minnow baits. New Jersey had some of the greatest horseshoe crab populations in the world. I worked for a company that sent tractor trailors full of our local crabs up north for conch bait.

In the wild there is now way a conch is going to chase down a horseshoe crab then turn it over and break through it's shell to get to the eggs. It's just the best bait around because a horseshoe has an inner shell and an outer shell. All the good stuff is in between. It's difficult for any conch, eel or minnow to get to it and clean it out. So you have a long lasting bait that fits the commercial needs.

We want cheap minnows. The food industry wants cheap conch and both want tons of eels. It's sad if something that has been around a few million years longer than we have has to pay the bill.

One time there was a heard of buffalo that covered four states. Didn't take long for single shot weapons to take care of that problem.

Off my soap box and good night.

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Fred as you know I'm all for conservation. We have very strict quotas on the crabs. Heck I don't even care about the crabs anymore. My Beef isn't with the crabs.

My beef is how the crabs were taken away from us with smoke and mirrors. Kind of how another species was swiped from us. Lies and broken promises.

Mr Niles keeps flat out lying and because we are dumb fishermen we don't have a say in the matter. That is why I urge all to attend the meetings that way everybody can see with there own eyes just what the truth is.

So is this issue really about the Red knots or is it about a older lady from Reeds beach that about 15 years ago cried the loudest. HUMMMM
Why has the trawl survey and tagging effort been made public ?????? If in fact there was a shortage of crabs then wouldn't the powers that be want all to see these results ???? But on the other hand if it was proven that the crab population is strong that info would be tucked away somewhere. Remember there is big money behind this.

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Fred (chunking) I am glad there is someone else who remembers the crabs being a common sight all during the summer and very heavy in the early part.

I did some research as FishPicker hinted and I did learn some stuff...pretty disturbing stuff! Did you know that these critters are not sexually mature until age 10? And that they live for 15 to 18 years? At what age do stripers mature:confused: How about the fact that the most desirable bait crabs are.......get this......Egg heavy females!! :eek: :mad: Another case of the most vulnerable being sought for harvest. C'mon guys, You can't tell me this is not shortsighted?

The shortage of beaches thing is true but it is part of a double or triple whammy these crabs are getting. There does seem to be a shortage of crabs, if only anecdotally. If we don't see them, they are not there! The other problem with the current trawls is there is no real historic data to compare the trawls to. While it may seem like there are zillions of these crabs it should be noted that there are many accounts that the numbers up on the beach and breeding has declined. Another interesting fact about the crabs and why it is important that they be in great abundance is the role they play in the ecosystem. The crabs lay about 80,000 eggs each. While that may sound like a lot of eggs you have to remember the populations of birds they feed. It was designed that way millenia ago and we have disturbed it. If you reduce the #s of eggs, you reduce the numbers of eggs that survive and so reduce the population. Taking egg heavy females does much more damage. You are taking the eggs out of circulation, so they have ZERO change of survival. None have the chance to get past the birds and out to sea. Another interesting thing about these crabs, besides that they have been here since the Dinosaurs, they have few natural enemies. Sharks and sea turtles are the most notable. Sea birds will eat them if they are turned over.

I have attached a few things I found. Niles didn't write them either :rolleyes:

In the News
Decrease in Crabs Raises Concerns

May 27, 2002

For hundreds of millions of years, horseshoe crabs have spawned with relatively little fanfare. This spring, however, as they have hauled themselves up on the beaches of Delaware Bay, they have been counted, collected for bait, observed, and argued over.

Last fall, Jim Berkson of the Horseshoe Crab Research Center at Virginia Tech conducted one of the first extensive trawling surveys of horseshoe crab population.

This weekend, Berkson and his colleagues will be flying over the Delaware shoreline with digital video cameras to document the number of crabs on the beaches.

Environmentalists and birders are tracking the crab population as well, because a huge surge in the number of crabs collected for bait in the last decade, and a decrease in the number of the shorebirds that feed on them - red knots in particular - have caused alarm.

The issue is simple enough in its general outline, but one part is missing - how many horseshoe crabs there are, and exactly what is happening to the population.

There is no question that there has been an enormous assault on the population on the East Coast. In the 1990's, the take of horseshoe crabs jumped from the thousands into the millions, because of a burgeoning fishery for whelk (also called conch, or, on the plate in an Italian restaurant, scungili) and eels.

Perry Plumart, the National Audubon Society's director of government relations, wrote in 2000 on the proposed regulations to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, "It is known that in the last five years alone between 15 and 20 million horseshoe crabs have been landed."

Observers had noted fewer crabs on the beaches in the spring over time, and several surveys showed a drastic decline in the availability of eggs, a main food for red knots and other shorebirds that stop to feed on their long migration. For some of the birds, being able to fatten up in the Delaware Bay is a matter of life and death. The bay is the most important stop for migratory shorebirds in the lower 48 states.

Lobbying by environmental groups managed to bring about restrictions on the harvest of crabs and the establishment of a sanctuary in the bay, but the harvesting is still going on and one significant problem is that horseshoe crabs take about 10 years to mature sexually.

Current restrictions, put in place by the fisheries commission and the individual states, still allow females heavy with eggs to be taken. The restrictions may be insufficient to protect the crabs and birds, according to Plumart and others.

Berkson's goal is to provide the solid numbers that will help the conflict to be resolved. He conducted a trawl survey off the Atlantic coast from Cape May, N.J., to Ocean City, Md., and said the estimate of the number of crabs in that area was a little over 11 million.

That did not include small crabs, he said, and, given the nature of the survey, the true number could be from 6 million to 17 million.

Given the harvesting rate in the past, that is not necessarily encouraging, but Berkson said there were horseshoe crab populations up and down the coast and at the moment, he said, the population was not endangered or threatened. What is not known, however, is how fast the population is declining and how fast reproduction is replacing crabs.

For Plumart, the lack of knowledge is a call to action, not only to research the numbers, which National Audubon strongly supports, but also to impose tougher restrictions. The numbers of crabs are declining, as are the birds, he says. And if we're not sure what's going on, that argues to play it safe, particularly since the birds need an abundance of eggs to survive their journey.

Dery Bennett, president of the American Littoral Society, agrees. "It seems to us as if the handwriting is there. We probably ought to lay off these animals completely."

Berskon said, "My opinion is that we have enough crabs out there for the shorebirds, for the biomedical community and for some harvest." What is not known, he said, is what level of harvest is tolerable to the crab population. "Nobody knows if measures taken so far are sufficient or overkill."

The issue is not merely one of conservation; horseshoe crab blood is a basis for a required biomedical test of bacterial contamination to determine the safety of drugs, intravenous solutions and some medical devices. Estimates of the size of the industry vary but it is at least $50 million. Berkson is currently waiting for an assurance that he will get money for the next trawl survey, as well as a federal appropriations measure that would provide $700,000 a year for five years for monitoring the horseshoe crab population.

In the meantime, the fishing continues, and another organization, the nonprofit Ecological Research and Development Group in Lewes, Del., is looking for technical solutions.

"We're an odd group within the environmental community," said Glenn Gauvry, the group's president. "We really are against regulation."

Instead, Gauvry's organization has been conducting research on alternative bait for whelk fishing, and on a very simple solution, that may be one of the only things everyone involved with the issue agrees on - bait bags.

The bait bag, first developed by a whelk fisherman, is simply an enclosure of rigid plastic mesh that protects the crab used as bait. Consequently, whelk fisherman can cut down on the amount of bait in traps because fewer creatures are able to eat it in bags, so it lasts longer.

The ecological research group now makes and gives the bags away free, and fishermen are starting to make their own. The bait bag, Gauvry says, could cut use of horseshoe
crabs in half.

Shorebird Crisis: The Horseshoe Crabs of Delaware Bay
by Don Crockett

So what has happened to get Pete Dunne, as he describes in the introductory piece, so frustrated and upset.
Back in the early 80's, Pete was among the first to document and describe the spectacular concentrations of shorebirds that were gathering along the shores of the Delaware Bay from mid-May to early-June (Wander & Dunne, 1981). Each year half a million to a million or more shorebirds arrive on the bayshores to feast on the eggs of the largest concentration of spawning horseshoe crabs along the Atlantic coast. Many of the shorebirds use this abundant supply of food to fuel the last thousand miles of their northward migration to the artic tundra. Red Knots, for example, arrive below their fat-free weight after flying 7,000 miles from southern Brazil. The knots need to double their weight during their 2-3 week stay in order to complete their journeys to artic Canada and breed successfully (Harrington, 1996).
Several years ago Pete and others noticed that the numbers of shorebirds and crabs seemed to be in decline. This seemed all too closely related to the increase in harvesting of the crabs as bait for the eel, whelk, and conch fisheries. Surveys that had first been performed in 1990 & 1991 to determine the density of available eggs for birds on New Jersey beaches, showed a 90% decrease when performed in 1995 & 1996. Censuses of spawning crabs showed a 2/3 decrease from 1990 to the present with most of the decline attributed to fewer crabs on the New Jersey beaches. Trawl samples performed in the bay showed a decline that correlated closely with the census data. Despite regulations put into place to restrict how and when horseshoe crabs could be harvested, the numbers of crabs taken each year in New Jersey kept increasing.
And then this year the numbers of spawning crabs and shorebirds plummeted in New Jersey. What had once been an awe inspiring spectacle that lined the shores with layers of shorebirds and horseshoe crabs was reduced to small isolated groups. Surface egg density surveys confirmed that there were very few eggs available for shorebirds. Aerial surveys of the bay found that birds that in previous years had been evenly distributed around the bay were heavily concentrated around one section of the Delaware side of the bay, the only place where crabs had spawned in large numbers.
The dramatic effects witnessed this year are not necessarily solely based on harvesting pressure. Environmental factors such as water temperature and the lunar cycle could also have influenced when and where crabs spawned this year. Shifts in the percentages of crabs on the Delaware and New Jersey shores have been documented in the past. No one knows for sure at this point what is causing the changes. Surveys do show that there has been a significant decline in the horseshoe crab population in the bay, and the commercial harvest is the most significant and controllable source of mortality in the horseshoe crabs.
Based on the dramatic changes observed this spring, a 60-day moratorium banning the harvest of horseshoe crabs in New Jersey was put into effect on May 31st by Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Several birding and conservation organizations are urging that a total emergency ban on horseshoe crabs be put in place in NJ, DE, MD, and VA until comprehensive regulations can be developed and put into place to ensure the sustainability of the crabs and the shorebirds that depend on them. On July 29th, Governor Whitman announced new strict regulations and extended the ban until the regulations could be put in place.
Regulatory processes will be influenced by public opinion and you can help by contacting people involved in making the decisions and letting them know that you support regulations that will protect horseshoe crab populations and the shorebirds that depend on them.
While every attempt was made to accurately portray the current situation and research findings, inaccuracies may have been included in this article. References to formal publications are provided for people interested in pursuing this issue further

Hard Times for Horseshoe Crabs
After millions of years, these Rodney Dangerfields of the aquatic kingdom are finally getting some overdue respect
From Outdoor Delaware Magazine
Story by: Kathleen Jamison
Photos by: Stephen Kirkpatrick

Horseshoe Crab
For millions of years, the high tides of late spring have drawn horseshoe crabs by the thousands from the bottom of the Delaware Bay and onto its Delaware and New Jersey beaches to mate and lay eggs. Millions upon millions of tiny gray-green eggs that somewhere on the biological time line have become a major source of food for hordes of half starved shorebirds on their annual migration from wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in the arctic.
No one knows for sure how many of these eggs successfully hatch, but estimates are that only one out of 130,000 eggs produces an offspring that reaches adulthood. Given that it takes about 10 years for a female to reach sexual maturity and that the average life span is only 18 years, the survival of the species depends in great part on mature females laying large numbers of eggs -- roughly 80,000 per female in a season.
Even with ruddy turnstones, red knots, semi palmated sandpipers, sanderlings, and a dozen other species gobbling up tons of eggs each spring, the ecological balance has remained fairly stable until very recently. Now some fisheries experts and conservationists are concerned that the resilient species -- which is not a true crab at all, but a close relative of spiders, mites and scorpions -- may be in trouble.
"There is no doubt that the numbers are down and that something is going on," says Charles A. Lesser, state fisheries administrator. "We just don't know what." We only started collecting information to assess stocks and to understand population dynamics in 1990 so we don't have the data base to compare what's happening now to what went on in the past."
In 1990 it was estimated that there was a spawning population of 1,200,000 crabs in the Delaware Estuary. In 1995, according to an annual census in which volunteers count the number of spawners coming ashore during a peak, one day period, there were fewer than 200,000. Lesser's best guess is that serious over harvesting is beginning to take its toll. Horseshoe crabs, especially the egg-laden females, are a favorite bait for eel, conch and catfish. With blue crabs scarce and other fisheries in a slump, some commercial fishermen are turning to horseshoe crabs to make ends meet. "At one point eelers were paying 85 cents to $1 per crab," says Lesser. "That brought out the gold rush mentality."

Shorebirds Looking For Eggs
Birders observing the migrating shorebirds were the first to notice the pickup trucks that were backing up to local beaches and hauling away loads of live horseshoe crabs. "That was back in 1988," according to Grace Pierce-Beck, who heads Delaware Audubon's conservation committee. "A few people have gotten cash for horseshoe crabs for years, but the money must have gotten better about then because all of a sudden there was a lot more collecting going on. When one of our birders asked a man with a truck load of crabs what was going on, he was told it was 'none of his business'."
Audubon members quickly made it their business, asking the Division of Fish and Wildlife to investigate. "We were concerned that over harvesting the horseshoe crabs could jeopardize the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that depend on the horseshoe eggs to give them energy for the second half of their 6,000 mile flight," Pierce-Beck says.
Fisheries officials agreed that controls were needed. They worked with then Sen. Ruth Ann Minner to draft legislation giving the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control authority to establish a program for the conservation and management of horseshoe crabs.
Minner, who has since become Delaware's lieutenant governor, recalls the reaction the proposed bill elicited from her colleagues in the General Assembly. "They laughed," she says. "Most of them thought horseshoe crabs were a nuisance and that there were already too many messing up our bay beaches. It took some talking to convince them that we needed a way to make sure that the horseshoe crabs - and the birds that depend on the horseshoe crab eggs - weren't depleted by over harvesting."
A bill authorizing the country's first modern horseshoe crab conservation plan finally was signed into law by Governor Tom Carper on May 16, 1991. Regulations designed to slow down the harvest were written by Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists.
Delawareans wishing to collect crabs for commercial purposes must buy a $100 permit; the cost to nonresidents is $1,000. Permits to collect for documented scientific, medical or education purposes are free, but collectors are encouraged to take only males if possible and to return the crabs to their original habitat when feasible. Commercial eelers are exempt as long as they use the horseshoe crabs they catch for their own pots. A license for dredging, which accounts for about 60% of the Delaware catch, is $100 for residents and $1,000 for nonresidents; only five are issued each year.
"The horseshoe crabs that are picked up on the beach are the most noticeable, but only 22% are hand collected coast wide," says Lesser. "The big landings are from the offshore trawl fisheries. The commercial fishermen know where the horseshoe crabs are in winter, where they are concentrated, and that's when most of the trawling is done. They discount studies that indicate the numbers are dwindling dramatically."
The Delaware Bay is the center of horseshoe crab spawning. "To have any impact on protecting the resource, we need a regional management plan," says Lesser. Historically, Delaware has accounted for about 12% of the annual coast wide landings; New Jersey, 25%; Maryland, 45%; Virginia, 7%; and the New England states, 10%.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which has the best shot at getting cooperation from all the states, has agreed to include a section on the use of horseshoe crabs as bait in the coast wide eel management plan it is not easy to do," says Lesser. "There are a lot of implications. After the draft is completed in late 1997 or 1998, there will be a round of public meetings, rewrites, etcetera . Actual implementation is several years away."

Horseshoe Crab Eggs
Last fall Delaware Audubon drafted a resolution asking state and federal officials to declare a moratorium on catching horseshoe crabs until the plan was developed. "Governor Carper wrote to the other governors in the region asking for their support and they all agreed, but that's as far as it went," says Pierce-Beck. "Until the federal management plan is in place, there will be no way to enforce any actions."
State fisheries biologist Stewart Michels is helping develop the plan. "Getting good data is critical," he says. "We can't arbitrarily close down the horseshoe crab fishery without justification and right now some questions remain unanswered. We hope to get more data and expertise from the other states to determine the status of the horseshoe crab throughout its range and, if necessary, enact reciprocal legislation to protect them."
With more data, Michels adds, "we hope to identify the impact of a number of factors are having on the population, including natural shifts in abundance and distribution, habitat loss and over fishing."
In 1990, the Division of Fish and Wildlife began collecting information on adult horseshoe crabs as part of its fin fish trawl survey. Sampling is done monthly from March through December at nine fixed stations in the Delaware Bay. The crabs are counted, measured and sexed. "At first we saw an equal number of males and females," Michels says. "Then in 1993-94 there was a decrease in the number of females that sent up a red flag about the potential for a population crash. Fortunately, the ratio corrected itself in 1995. We hope that is good news, but it could be that in the absence of the necessary number of females, the males are being hit harder."
In 1992, the Division began collecting statistics on juvenile horseshoe crabs in the Delaware estuary. Sampling is done from April through October at 34 stations. After a first-year low, catch rates have been fairly consistent. One interesting discovery that juveniles are most abundant near the mouth of the St. Jones River, with high concentrations occurring from the Little River to the Mispillion.
"Getting all the answers may take years," Michels admits.
In the meantime, some scientists, fisheries experts and conservationists believe that one answer could be artificial bait. "Something that is more efficient than catching horseshoe crabs and sawing them into pieces," says Lesser. Dr. Nancy Targett at the University of Delaware's Graduate College of Marine Studies agrees. She is seeking funds to study horseshoe crab eggs to find out what makes them attractive to eels and conchs, then duplicate those properties in artificial eggs.
"Management strategies have been proposed to reduce fishing pressure on these animals," Targett says. "Perhaps the best strategy to reduce fishing pressure would be to develop an artificial bait that could be substituted for horseshoe crab eggs. That would also divert horseshoe crab availability to higher value, sustainable uses like the production of Limulus amoebocyte lysate which is used by pharmaceutical companies to detect bacterial contamination in drugs."
Bleeding horseshoe crabs for the blood clotting agent lysate in their white blood cells is a process that does not harm the animals. After a technician takes about 12 ounces of blood, which turns a rich copper blue when exposed to the air, the crab is returned to the water.
The horseshoe crab also is used for vision studies because its complex eye structure is similar to the human eye. Though its scientific name, Limulus polyphemus, comes from the mythological one eyed Cyclops, the animal actually has nine eyes and a number of additional photoreceptors along its tail. Neurophysiologists are especially interested in the two lateral eyes on either side of the shell. They think these studies might lead to some answers about how the human eye and brain work together.
It's about time this unassuming and mildly alarming creature - a living fossil that looks like a helmet with legs and spends most of its life on the bottom of the bay - gets credit for its role in the well being of the ecosystem, not to mention human health. They've survived in their present form for 100 million years, so chances are they will be around a lot longer than the collectors who are threatening their numbers or the biologist and conservationists who are determined to protect them.
Still, if you are walking along one of Delaware's bay beaches next spring and see stranded horseshoe crabs, pick them up - gently and definitely not by the tail! - and put them back in the surf. Just for good measure.

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The lack of returning (southerly flying) immature red knots last summer was disturbing. That means there was virtually no breeding success for an already doomed species. That means the adults feeding at the Del in the spring didn't get enough crab eggs to be successful at breeding.

There is now evidence that red knots are feeding at other locations along the Atlantic Coast, which is a tell-tale sign that there isn't enough to eat to the Del (their historic stop-over spot). Something is up...

I can tell from the census data that my office takes that there are far fewer breeding female horseshoe crabs on the beaches now than in the past.

I guess I'm just another enviro-nut, like Larry... :rolleyes:

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guys you look in the wrong places, deleware bay is not the only p[lace for crabs ,Raritan bay also has a VERY large number of crabs along with several other bays.every year i hear there are not crabs, then i go crabbing and find them very thick at the right tides and moon phases.the trawel survey do not lie, i agree with the managment of them but strongly disagree with larry niles who is backed bt the audubon day the audubon society will win the fight and the next thing they go after just might be your fishing poles because ospreys do eat fish.i could go on for hours with information but it will just make my blood presure rise so whats the point
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