Today Governor Corzine signed the moratorium bill passed by the New Jersey Senate and Assembly. It bans the harvest of horseshoe crabs except a small number for medical and scientific purposes. The goal is to allow the breeding horseshoe crab population to recover from two decades of overfishing. Their eggs support the journeys of migratory red knots, which are on the verge of extinction.
“The effects of human behavior often have widespread, unintended consequences that reverberate across the animal kingdom for generations, like the ripple effect in a pond that started out as one small disturbance,” Governor Corzine said. “It is with that in mind that we are here today to extend the moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting, so as to reverse the endangerment and prevent the extinction of the red knot species and other shorebirds.”Thanks to the state senators and assemblymen who sponsored and passed the legislation and to NJ Audubon for pushing the issue. Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia should follow their example.
“This moratorium will be held in place until the populations of both horseshoe crabs and red knots have returned to a level where they will be self sustaining as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service,” the Governor added.
Update: An opinion piece in today's Star-Ledger asserts that the significance of the moratorium law is the standard it sets for future interventions:
Little recognized was the fact that for the first time in NJ environmental law, the Legislature embraced a true precautionary principle. The scientific standard in the law should serve as a model and precedent. Driven by the steeply declining populations of the red knot, the new law shifts the scientific and legal burden from DEP to show that the species is harmed, to the fishing industry to show that any horseshoe crab harvest will not harm the recovery of the red knot and several other migratory birds. This is an important policy shift and thus far ignored aspect of what is otherwise a band aid on a dire situation.This law is suited to the specific needs of the red knot, so it has limited applicability to other situations. Shifting the balance or power between wildlife protection and other interests would require further legislation that may not be as easy to enact.