Crab catch limit set to aid bird migration

March 18, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,

Turning aside calls for a ban on the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs, Maryland officials are imposing a new limit on the catch in an attempt to help shorebirds that migrate up the Atlantic coast in spring.

Effective April 1, fishermen will be required to catch two male horseshoe crabs for every female they keep, the Department of Natural Resources said yesterday. The rule is designed to increase the availability of horseshoe crab eggs on mid-Atlantic beaches when migratory shorebirds arrive in May and June.

The population of red knots has declined sharply in recent years because there are fewer horseshoe crab eggs for the birds to feed on when they stop off in Delaware Bay. Fishermen catch the crabs as bait for luring conchs and eels.

Conservation groups had urged Maryland and other states to halt all commercial harvesting of horseshoe crabs. But state officials defended the catch limit as balancing environmental and economic needs.

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