TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Bob Gordon to impose a moratorium on the taking of horseshoe crabs to protect the food supply for the endangered red knot shorebird was approved today by the Senate by a vote of 39-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“Years of poor environmental planning and overfishing have decimated the red knot population and driven this bird to the brink of extinction,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “New Jersey has an opportunity to do the right thing in restoring a centuries-old balance on the food chain between these shorebirds and the horseshoe crab. We must give Nature a chance to re-establish the natural order, and allow the red knot to come back from the verge of annihilation.”
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 fishermen 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 a moratorium on the taking of horseshoe crabs, there are certain species of red knot that will be extinct within the next five years,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “We are paying the price today, in terms of dwindling numbers of red knots, for years of overfishing of horseshoe crabs in the 1990s. Until the red knot has rebounded to a point where these shorebirds are no longer in jeopardy, we need a strict and absolute moratorium to undo our damage to the ecosystem.”
The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.