Page 8 - June 23, 2021
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{ 8 }  SNJ Today  |  JUNE 23, 2021                                                                                                                                                                                                                               JUNE 23, 2021  |   { 9 }

      A Knotty Problem

        The number of red knot shorebirds stopping over
             along the Delaware Bay has plummeted.

     	       	      	      								Larry Niles, Wildlife Restoration Partnerships

                                                                               was from the Delaware Bay. New York   Red knot rests after feeding on horseshoe
                                                                               is nearly 150 miles from the mouth of the   crab eggs. PHOTO: JAN VAN DE KAM
                                                                               Delaware Bay, so profits must be substan-
                                                                               tial to justify the transport costs. It’s legal   and focused on Delaware Bay females.
                                                                               to take Delaware Bay crabs out of federal   The ASMFC management board argued
                                                                               waters, so anyone can catch them, land   that the harvest could not harm a popula-
           ne of New Jersey’s most important                                   them, and apply them to one’s own state’s   tion the size of Delaware Bay’s horseshoe
           ecological features, the Delaware Bay                               quota, which is exactly what New York cur-  crabs, but the data tells another story.
     Ostopover for Arctic nesting shore-                                       rently does. The ASMFC has little idea of   When the horseshoe crab population
     birds, currently hangs in the balance. This                               by-catch mortality and illegal harvests. Still,   crashed 20 years ago, the ASMFC initiated
     year the passage red knot population fell to                              the agency continues to insist, against all   the Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Trawl,
     less than 80 percent of what it was just two   Windrows of horseshoe crab eggs line the   indications to the contrary, that females are   a dedicated at-sea survey. Numbers fluctu-
     years ago, and that was only a third of the   surface of the Delaware Bay beachfront. IN-  protected by only harvesting males.    ated, at times showing improvements, but
     original number before the overharvest of   SET: Horseshoe crabs look like cobblestones   In another drain on the population,   currently the survey numbers are no differ-
     horseshoe crabs in the 1980s.        on the beachfront when spawning is at its   horseshoe crab blood is used by the pharma-  ent than when the crash occurred.
        As a young biologist with the NJ   height. PHOTOS: SHOREBIRD PROGRAM   ceutical industry to detect bio-contaminants   The success of this survey is its longev-
     Endangered Species Program, I worked   after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and it con-  for medical devices or for drugs put into   ity. During its 20-year life, Virginia Tech
     on this original population. With Pete   tinues to the present, reviving egg densi-  human bodies. Today there are alternatives   used the data to estimate the size of the
     McClain, deputy director of NJ Fish and   ties, and red knot numbers improved to   available, and the use of their blood should   population each year. Over time they have
     Wildlife, we helped conduct the early sur-  over 30,000. However, this year we saw   be phased out. As prospective partners in   shown that, on average, 1.4 million new
     veys. Back then, we estimated that more   only 6,880 birds. The problem: There are   conservation, the pharmaceutical companies   adult females per year mature into the
     than 1.5 million shorebirds of six different   too few crabs and eggs to support the stop-  that bleed crabs leave little room for trust.   adult population. After nine years of matu-
     species used the beaches and the intertidal   over under all circumstances. We are still   Chiara Eisner in South Carolina has writ-  ration these new females should be driving
     mudflats and creek edges of the Delaware   managing horseshoe crabs for the best of   ten several in-depth articles in The State, a   population growth, yet the number of adult
     Bay. Back then, the crab population seemed   conditions when we should be focusing on   South Carolina newspaper, about Charles   females stays the same.
     boundless. Crabs cobbled every beach, and   the worst.                    River Associates’ (a bleeding company)   Why do numbers of mature female horse-
     eggs piled in windrows on some shorelines.   Currently an estimated three-quarters   payments to state agencies regulating the   shoe crabs fail to increase? Because someone
     Birds and fish gorged themselves, creating   of a million crabs still die every year.   fishery. This company is also under a court   or something is killing females as fast as they
     a cornucopia of abundant marine life and   Numbers must be estimated because sur-  order to end taking horseshoe crabs from a   mature. The regulatory and federal agen-
     providing animals and people with a well-  veillance is weak and regulations are only   USFWS refuge, potentially illegally.   cies are happy to make bold assumptions in
     tuned ecosystem.                     loosely applied.                       Regardless of their integrity or lack   estimating the quotas to kill crabs, but no one
        The overharvest of horseshoe crabs   The horseshoe crab harvest for bait is   thereof, the bleeding companies, with the   explains or offers data to explain this funda-
     changed all that. During the 1990s, crab har-  regulated using a male-only take in the   full knowledge of big pharma, take no part   mental data conflict. Instead, the agency’s
     vests went from about 100,000 to a whop-  mid-Atlantic, although the reporting of sex   in conservation activities to replace what   management board ignores it. Usually, they
     ping 2.5 million by 1998. Egg densities nose-  is no longer required of states. Regardless,   they kill or to restore what has been lost in   resort to the usual litany of causes and pro-
     dived from 50,000 eggs per square meter to   Delaware Bay females still die legally. Eric   the past. Instead, they use regulatory loop-  vide no data or reasonable justification. The
     6,000. Red knot numbers plummeted from   Hallerman of Virginia Tech reported to one   holes that allow them to evade public scru-  ASMFC management board often cites habi-
     90,000 to 50,000, then to 30,000, bottoming   Atlantic States Marine Fish Commission   tiny, and all of their data is self-reported and   tat loss, ignoring the decades-long beach res-
     out at 17,000 in the mid-2000s.      (ASMFC) Adaptative Resource          monitored without any third-party field ver-  toration projects conducted in New Jersey.
        In response, beach restoration was con-  Management (ARM) committee that 44   ification. Bleeding companies claim a kill of   The habitat loss argument also fails basic
     ducted by the American Littoral Society   percent of the harvest landed in New York   around of 100,000; it could be much higher   wildlife science. If crabs were being limited
                                                                                                                   by habitat loss, the crabs would be overabun-
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