Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Massachusetts to Reduce Its Horseshoe Crab Harvest

Now that New Jersey has banned harvesting horseshoe crabs, we start to see further action from other states. Massachusetts plans to cut its harvest quota in half. Harvest reductions in the Mid-Atlantic states have increased demand for horseshoe crabs from Massachusetts.

Massachusetts' current horseshoe crab quota is 330,377 annually, second only to New York's at 366,272. Delaware is one of the states that has cut back its harvest, setting its quota at 100,000. Delaware harvested 76,663 horseshoe crabs last year, a more than 75 percent drop from 2003.

In Massachusetts, about 70,000 animals were landed in 2004. That more than doubled to 150,000 last year. Most of the increase was shipped out of state by bait dealers.

A spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs would not specify yesterday exactly what the new regulations would be but said the limit would be about 150,000, the same as landings for last year.
Acting now to keep the annual harvest from escalating May prevent the need for emergency measures like New Jersey's ban. Already some sites are seeing ill effects from extra fishing.
Experts, including Bob Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, worry that Wellfleet Harbor's crab population could easily be fished out, particularly since spawning crabs can literally be picked right off the beach.

Known as localized depletion, that theory is buttressed by scientific studies that show that, much like river herring, horseshoe crabs return from offshore waters to the same estuary or beach each spring to spawn....

"We've been out there and it's dead and instead we find a (horseshoe crab) harvester out there," he said.
Several areas on Cape Cod are already closed to horseshoe crab harvesters. These include the major shorebird sites like Monomoy NWR. By cutting back now, Massachusetts may avoid the need for a complete ban. If New Jersey and Delaware had regulated horseshoe crab fisheries more tightly in the 1990s, perhaps they could have avoided need for stronger measures here, too.