Audubon ads go to aid of the horseshoe crab

Radio campaign aims to persuade Virginia to enact harvest limit

June 16, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

The National Audubon Society has taken to the airwaves to try to save a prehistoric sea creature that is a primary food source for migrating shorebirds.

The society announced yesterday a $10,000 radio advertising campaign aimed at persuading Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III to follow in the footsteps of the governors of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland and impose strict limits on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs.

The ads, to air on two Richmond, Va., stations, argue that "greedy commercial fishermen" are decimating the horseshoe crab fishery and that Virginia's Marine Resources Commission "caved in to special interests" when it set harvest limits at 26 times the average annual catch of earlier years.

In one spot, the society appeals to environmental concerns, referring to a potential "silent spring on Virginia's Eastern Shore" if the harvest is not reduced.

In another, it appeals to business interests, saying that bird-watchers and other naturalists spend $700 million a year in Virginia. The ad claims that without the horseshoe crabs, the birds that attract the tourists, and the money and jobs they create, would be gone.

"We wanted to grab the governor's attention" with the business angle, explained Daniel P. Beard, the society's senior vice president for public policy. "When we talked to the governors of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, they immediately connected to the environmental argument. [But] we think this is the best argument to make with Gov. Gilmore."

Horseshoe crabs, which predate dinosaurs by 100 million years, are being squeezed between commercial and natural forces.

They are valuable as bait for eel and conch and their blood is used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop certain tests.

Their eggs, laid on beaches from the Carolinas through New Jersey, serve as food for shorebirds -- sanderlings, dunlins, knots and ruddy turnstones -- that migrate thousands of miles annually, from the southern tip of Argentina to the Canadian Arctic.

Harvest has tripled

As European and Asian markets for eel and conch have grown, the harvest tripled between 1994 and 1997, according to Pete Jensen, Maryland's deputy secretary of natural resources.

State and national Audubon societies and the American Bird Conservancy, alarmed by studies that showed declining numbers of horseshoe crabs, persuaded New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland officials to sharply limit catches last year.

But Virginia's Marine Resources Commission set its limit at 710,000 crabs, 40,000 fewer than 1997 but six times its previous annual average of 20,000 to 25,000, according to the Audubon Society.

Claims are `bogus'

Jack Travelstead, chief of the fisheries management division of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, called the society's claims of notably smaller harvests "bogus" because commercial fishermen were not required to report horseshoe crab landings before 1997.

"We don't know for sure what was done in the past," he said.

The states that imposed restrictions were "acting on emotion" and responding to "political pressure" from certain constituencies, he said.

Ron Hamm, Virginia's deputy secretary for Natural Resources, said the state has "taken significant action" by imposing a limit, regardless of the level, and requiring fishermen to report all landings of horseshoe crabs.

"These are important measures until we can get good scientific data," Hamm said.

Jensen said Maryland had "enough scientific evidence to convince us that the harvest of horseshoe crabs over the last several years had increased by several hundred percent."

"It was enough to cause concern, and we took a precautionary move," he said.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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