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Horseshoe Crab Bait Bags are adopted by the Virginia Conch Fishery

September 1, 2000

Virginia: In October of last year, at an alternative bait workshop hosted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), ERDG offered to manufacture and distribute a particular type of bait bag being successfully used by Frank Eicherly IV a Milford, Delaware, conch fisherman.

The use of these bait bags has reduced this watermans demand for horseshoe crabs as bait by up to 75%. The ASMFC accepted ERDG’s offer and researcher, Robert Fisher, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) Sea Grant program, who was also in attendance, offered to integrate the use of ERDG’s bait bags into his research on alternative bait being conducted with Virginia conch fisherman. The plan was to investigate whether the use of the bags would reduce the number of horseshoe crabs needed for conch bait. The research indicated that the bait bags successfully extended the effective fishing time of the bait by preventing bait loss to non-target species. Therefore, fewer crabs were required when bait bags were used. Over the course of the study, it was determined that a reduction of 50% in bait use could be realized without an appreciable difference in catch.

In August, the Commonwealth of Virginia notified the ASMFC that Virginia recently approved a measure requiring the use of bait bags by its conch fisherman. Virginia reported that this action was taken based on the above research done by VIMS and ERDG, which indicated that bait bags halved the number of horseshoe crabs needed for bait. Consequently, Virginia reduced its self-imposed quota of 710,000 horseshoe crabs to 355,000. While this is still above Virginia’s cap of 152,495 set by the ASMFC, this measure will result in a substantial reduction in the annual harvest of these animals.

Next spring, ERDG will manufacture over 7,000 bait bags for distribution within the conch fishery in the states of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. It is ERDG’s intention to extend the success in Virginia to the other states and, ultimately, throughout the entire conch fishing industry.

The successful use of this innovation will significantly reduce the use of horseshoe crabs as bait, an exploitation that accounts for the mortality of several million adult horseshoe crabs on the Atlantic coast annually.