Harvest of horseshoe crabs, used for medicine and bait, to be limited to protect rare bird

by Chloe Baker
Horseshoe Crab Conservation

Interstate fishing authorities are implementing restrictions on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs, a vital species for both medical and fishing purposes, to bolster its dwindling numbers and support a rare bird species.

The collection of horseshoe crabs, primarily along the East Coast, serves dual purposes: as bait in fishing and in the biomedical sector. However, a decline in their numbers in certain areas is concerning, particularly due to their role as a key food source for the red knot, a migratory bird classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

To aid in the conservation effort, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has decided to prohibit the collection of female horseshoe crabs from the Delaware Bay for the 2024 fishing season. This bay is crucial for the survival of the species and is a significant harvesting location, especially in New England.

John Clark, the head of the Atlantic States horseshoe crab management board, noted a positive trend in the crab population over the past 20 years in the Delaware Bay. Nonetheless, he emphasized the importance of discontinuing the female crab harvest for the upcoming season to support the red knot bird, which depends on crab eggs during its extensive migration.

“Given the ongoing public concern about the red knot’s population in the Delaware Bay, the board has opted for a zero harvest policy for female horseshoe crabs in 2024 as a cautious approach,” Clark stated.

The board plans to compensate for the reduced female crab harvest by increasing the allowable catch of male horseshoe crabs in the mid-Atlantic region.

Horseshoe crabs are not only used as bait for eels and whelks but their unique blue blood is crucial in the pharmaceutical industry for detecting harmful contaminants in drugs and medical devices. These crabs, which have inhabited the ocean for over 400 million years, are harvested from Maine to Florida.

Environmental organizations have been advocating for stronger protection measures for horseshoe crabs in recent times. One significant achievement was the U.S. government’s decision in August to halt the harvesting of this species in South Carolina’s Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge during their spawning season.

Ben Prater, a director at Defenders of Wildlife, highlighted the significance of this decision for migratory shorebirds reliant on horseshoe crab eggs for their extensive migrations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Horseshoe Crab Conservation

Why are horseshoe crabs being protected?

Horseshoe crabs are being protected due to their declining numbers in certain areas and their critical role as a food source for the red knot, a migratory bird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

What measures are being taken to protect horseshoe crabs?

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is prohibiting the harvest of female horseshoe crabs from the Delaware Bay during the 2024 fishing season as a measure to rebuild the crab population and support the red knot bird species.

How are horseshoe crabs used in fishing and biomedicine?

Horseshoe crabs are harvested as bait for fishing, particularly for eels and whelks. Their blue blood is also used in the biomedical industry to test for harmful impurities in drugs and medical devices.

What is the significance of the Delaware Bay for horseshoe crabs?

The Delaware Bay is one of the most important ecosystems for horseshoe crabs, being a major harvesting location and crucial for the survival of the species.

What is the impact of horseshoe crab conservation on the red knot bird?

Protecting horseshoe crabs, especially through measures like banning female crab harvest, helps the red knot bird as it relies heavily on crab eggs for nourishment during its long migration.

More about Horseshoe Crab Conservation

  • Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
  • Endangered Species Act Information
  • Horseshoe Crab Conservation Efforts
  • Red Knot Bird Migration and Conservation
  • Biomedical Uses of Horseshoe Crab Blood
  • Sustainable Fishing Practices
  • Impact of Horseshoe Crabs on Ecosystems
  • Wildlife Protection Organizations

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EcoWarrior78 November 14, 2023 - 7:40 am

finally some positive news for wildlife conservation, let’s keep up the good work and protect more species!

JennyLovesNature November 14, 2023 - 12:20 pm

This is really great news, horseshoe crabs are so important for the ecosystem. Glad to see them getting the protection they need!

FishingGuy101 November 14, 2023 - 4:33 pm

i’m a fisherman and even I think it’s a good move, we gotta balance our needs with the environment, right?

BioMedStudent November 14, 2023 - 10:20 pm

interesting to see how crucial horseshoe crab blood is in our field, never knew they were under threat, thanks for sharing!

BirdWatcherCarol November 15, 2023 - 1:51 am

Protecting the red knot is crucial, these birds are amazing! Good job on the conservation efforts.


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