TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Bob Gordon to impose a moratorium on the taking of horseshoe crabs to protect food supply for the endangered red knot shorebird was unanimously approved by the Senate Environment Committee today.
“We have a sacred obligation to preserve the centuries-old natural relationship between horseshoe crabs and the red knot, a migratory shorebird that’s on the verge of extinction,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “This is an opportunity to repair the damage due to over-fishing of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay in the 1990s, which has interfered with the food chain and put the red knot at risk. We need to continue the horseshoe crab moratorium instituted by the State DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) in 2006 to preserve the food supply and reverse the steady decline of one of the great migratory shorebirds.”
The legislation, S-1331, would extend New Jersey’s moratorium on taking or possessing State horseshoe crabs or crab eggs until the red knot species has rebounded to a level outlined in the United States Shorebird Conservation Plan of May 2001 and scientific evidence suggests that there is an adequate food supply for the bird. The bill, however, allows for fisherman to possess horseshoe crabs, which they primarily use as bait for conch and eel, so long as they can show documentation that the crabs were taken out of State.
The red knot is a migratory shorebird which travels each spring from as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, to wintering areas in the Canadian Arctic. The Delaware Bay is considered a linchpin in the red knot’s spring migration, because it is the final major feeding stop on the bird’s migration towards the Arctic. Every Spring, the birds descend on beaches along the Delaware Bay, feeding on horseshoe crab eggs allowing them to survive up to three weeks in the Arctic until insects become available as food for the red knot.
“Without State intervention, certain subspecies of the red knot will become extinct in as little as five years,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “New Jersey cannot sit back idly while the unchecked over-fishing of horseshoe crabs leads to the demise of a species. Through an extended horseshoe crab moratorium, we’re giving the red knot a chance to rebound from the unintended consequences of over-fishing in the 1990s.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.