Ban proposed on horseshoe crab fishing

Rule would affect harvests in Atlantic Coast states

May 12, 2000

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed banning fishing for horseshoe crabs in federal waters off the mouth of Delaware Bay in an attempt to protect the valuable species.

The ban is part of a plan to manage fishing for the helmet-shaped creatures, which was adopted in April by the multistate agency that regulates East Coast commercial fishing.

Fisheries officials said it is not a response to Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper's written request last week for an immediate moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs within 30 miles of the mouth of Delaware Bay.

"We've been working with the Atlantic State's Marine Fisheries Commission and we're looking for public input," said Gordon Helm, a fisheries service spokesman. "We've received other letters and requests, too."

Horseshoe crabs, which provide food for migrating shorebirds, bait for a burgeoning conch and eel fishery, and blood for pharmaceutical tests, are in trouble.

The harvest more than quadrupled from 1993 to 1996, and the stock dwindled, according to a 1998 report from the fisheries commission. Spawning surveys in Delaware and New Jersey have found sharp declines, as have egg counts in New Jersey.

In addition to the moratorium in waters off Delaware Bay, the fisheries commission plan would require Atlantic Coast states to reduce their horseshoe crab harvests by 25 percent.

The fisheries service will accept public comment through June 7 before making the ban final, Helm said.

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