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On November 17, 1997, the States of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia agreed to commit the necessary resources to develop a Fisheries
Management Plan for the horseshoe crab through the
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). This commission was established by the
United States Congress to manage interstate or “shared” marine fisheries. Specifically, ASMFC allows Atlantic coastal states to cooperatively manage
migratory marine species, like the horseshoe crab, across political jurisdictions for the benefit to all member states. ASMFC manages these resources
within state controlled waters (within 3 miles of shore). Waters beyond 3 miles from shore are under federal jurisdiction and are managed by the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
Prior to the coast wide Fisheries Management Plan (FMP), several states acted on their own to protect horseshoe crab populations. Citizens and fisheries managers from throughout the region were becoming concerned that horseshoe crab populations were becoming depleted. These concerns were fueled by the economic demands placed on the species and the limited information known about its life history. As a result, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland started managing the fishery using a system of permits and licenses and imposing catch/gear restrictions. In addition, Maryland and Virginia worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office to develop a Chesapeake Bay fisheries management plan in 1994. The Chesapeake Bay FMP served as the basis for the coast wide management plan and was instrumental in creating restrictions on the harvest of horseshoe crabs in Maryland. The plan is available through the Chesapeake Bay Program Office.
ASMFC completed a cooperative regional fishery management plan in October 1998 that protects horseshoe crabs, shorebirds and meets the needs of a sustainable horseshoe crab fishery. Maryland DNR and other states provided staff and scientific support during the entire FMP development process. This plan called for Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey to continue their harvests reduction efforts and focused heavily on improving efforts to monitor horseshoe crab populations. The focus on monitoring efforts was designed to improve harvest and population data. Fisheries managers use this data to help them set harvest levels that will sustain the fishery, horseshoe crab populations, and other species that depend on the superabundance of horseshoe crab eggs and larvae for their survival.
However, the plan did not regulate the harvest of crabs in other states. As a result, mid-Atlantic harvests shifted to Virginia. Prior to 1998, Virginia harvests averaged around 200,000 crabs but in 1998 they grew to 1.2 million crabs. In Pennsylvania, a state without a coastline, watermen landed horseshoe crabs. ASMFC sought to resolve the deficiencies found with the 1998 management plan by approving a series of Addendums. Addendum I, approved in 2000, sought to limit harvests in each member state using a system of quotas. The quota was set at 25% below a reference period. While Addendum II, approved in 2001, sought to allow states to transfer these quotas amongst themselves if approved by an ASMFC technical committee.
Since the FMP and its addendums were approved, coast-wide landings have declined relative to the reference landings period (RPL). In fact, preliminary landings for 2001 indicate that harvests have declined by 66% since the RPL. And despite the reduction in landings, there have been no apparent large-scale shortages of horseshoe crabs used as bait.
In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has implemented several recommendations by ASMFC on horseshoe crab management. NMFS created the Carl Shuster Horseshoe Crab Sanctuary off the Delaware Bay where the fishing of horseshoe crabs is prohibited. Regulations to prohibit the at sea transfer of horseshoe crabs are also being developed by NMFS.
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|Updated July 29, 2005|