In 2022, our work protecting horseshoe crabs (HSCs) on the Atlantic Coast enjoyed some notable successes, but the alarm bells are still ringing given the fact that HSC populations – as well as the populations of migrating shorebirds that depend on their eggs – show scant signs of recovery.
We are grateful that more than 30,000 of our constituents said “no female harvest” to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), and at least for now, ASMFC has elected not to sanction the killing of female horseshoe crabs. The key words are “at least for now.” The coalition’s goal moving forward is a permanent ban on the harvest of female horseshoe crabs through a combination of regulatory measures, state legislation and sustained public awareness.
Another cause for alarm is that the bleeding of horseshoe crabs for biomedical purposes continues at a relentless pace. Moving beyond its traditional strongholds, the bleeding industry is expanding in Massachusetts and Virginia. This, despite widespread criticism of the bleeding industry’s practices and the availability of a synthetic alternative that somehow is still not recognized by the US Pharmacopeia, which helps set quality standards for the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries.
This needs to change in 2023. A technically advanced society such as ours cannot continue to rely on the blood of a living animal to assure the safety of our vaccines and biological therapies.
HCRC is drafting Best Management Practices which we will be submitting to the ASMFC. We hope to end the bleeding industry’s killing of crabs through overbleeding and poor handling and compel them to assess the ecological impact of bled crabs after release.This spring, all eyes will be on Delaware Bay, where red knot numbers stayed at historically low levels in 2022. The knot count had a slight increase from 6,800 in 2021 to over 12,000 in 2022, but that is far less than the 2019 count of 30,000 and a fraction of the peak population of over 94,000 in 1989. We fear that the lack of its historically plentiful food source – horseshoe crab eggs – may be causing the knots and other shorebirds to bypass the bay for other less nutritious environs. We’ll use this blog in the spring to share real-time observations with you.
We’ll also be refining our science and stewardship program in 2023, with an increased focus on egg density, the best indicator for the health of the crab population and the shorebirds that depend on them.
We want to thank all coalition members and supporters for making a difference in the fight to preserve horseshoe crabs and the species that depend on them. Our successes are all because of you.
David Mizrahi and Larry Niles
The Horseshoe Crab Recovery Coalition