A horseshoe crab management board within the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) accepted a proposal today that poses a significant threat to the red knot, a declining migratory shorebird whose numbers reached a record low in Delaware Bay last spring. The board approved a revision to the management of horseshoe crabs in the region that conservation groups warned would likely result in an Endangered Species Act violation.
In a separate action, the board initiated a process for formally implementing the revision.
On January 18, Defenders of Wildlife, New Jersey Audubon, and Earthjustice sent a letter to the Commission outlining their concerns that the proposal would likely lead to lifting the prohibition on the killing — or “harvesting” — of female horseshoe crabs for use as fishing bait. Horseshoe crab eggs are a crucial food source for the red knot.
Red knots make one of the most epic migrations in the animal kingdom, starting as far south as Tierra del Fuego and flying more than 9,000 miles to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle. For most red knots, Delaware Bay is a critical resting point to replenish and renourish with horseshoe crab eggs before finishing their journeys, enabling a rapid doubling of their body mass.
In response to the horseshoe crab management board’s decision today, Eric Stiles, president and CEO at New Jersey Audubon, said: “Now is not the time for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to move forward with a proposal that would further destabilize horseshoe crab and red knot populations along Delaware Bay. Rushing such a decision could have tragic consequences for both species and the overall ecosystem of the bay.”
Christian Hunt, Southeast representative at Defenders of Wildlife, said: “We are dismayed by the board’s vote. With the red knot on the very edge of extinction, it shows just how out of touch the ASMFC has become. Now is the time to double down, not diminish, horseshoe crab protections.”
Ben Levitan, senior attorney for Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program, said: “Today’s decision to advance a proposal that could further imperil red knots and horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay is both wrongheaded and alarming. The Commission should scrap this proposal and follow the science and the law, which call for strong protections for horseshoe crabs and red knots.”