Saturday, March 08, 2008

Red Knot Update: A Horseshoe Crab Harvest of Zero

Banded Red Knot / Photo by Peter Doherty

After rejecting the New Jersey DEP's proposal for an indefinite moratorium on horseshoe crab harvests last month, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (NJMFC) reversed course and set the allowable harvest of horseshoe crabs at 0. How did this happen? The council needed to reconvene because the state was not in compliance with regional fisheries limits.

The opportunity for another vote may seem odd, but there was a reason. The ASMFC sets the quota for the East Coast states. It set New Jersey's quota at 100,000 crabs the past two years. They could only be male crabs, since red knots migrating from South America to Canada stop on the Delaware Bay crab-mating grounds to feast on the eggs.

The rub is New Jersey never adopted the 100,000-crab limit because it had a moratorium in place in 2006 and 2007. When the moratorium ended at the February meeting, it automatically reverted New Jersey to the last harvest level it had on the books from 2005, which was 150,000 crabs, both male and female. That immediately made New Jersey out of compliance with the ASMFC.

The penalty for noncompliance: Go figure, it's usually it's a moratorium on fishing.

This is where it gets interesting. Rizzo made a motion first to allow 100,000 male crabs, to put the state in compliance. This passed unanimously. Hollinger made the second motion to set the harvest at 0 crabs. This also passed unanimously.

The good news is that there will be no horseshoe crab harvest in New Jersey this spring. This will give the horseshoe crab population an extra year to recover and perhaps will mean more fertilized eggs on the beaches for red knots to eat.

It appears that the NJMFC was motivated by the attempt to reimpose the moratorium by law. Such legislation would permanently remove horseshoe crabs from the NJMFC's oversight, placing the decision in the hands of the state DEP instead. The fate of a state endangered species should not rest with a body composed largely of commercial fishing representatives. This legislation is still needed, so we should continue to encourage the state legislature to enact it.