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NOAA Fisheries Awards $10,000 Grant to Continue Horseshoe Crab Conservation

February 25, 2002

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service has awarded a $10,000 grant to Ecological Research and Development Group, a Delaware-based horseshoe crab conservation organization. The conservation group will use the funds to continue saving thousands of horseshoe crabs by providing a no-cost way for mid-Atlantic conch and whelk fishermen to use fewer of the prehistoric anthropods as bait. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

The decline of horseshoe crabs on the Atlantic coast in recent years has led to state and federal restrictions on their harvest. These restrictions have caused bait shortages for whelk fishermen who use whole crabs as bait in whelk pots.

Ecological Research and Development Group will use the funds to distribute simple devices, known as bait bags, free-of-charge to whelk fishermen. Constructed of plastic netting, bait bags are placed in the bottom of the whelk pots and secured with a bungee cord. The bags prevent undesirable species from devouring the horseshoe crab bait, resulting in higher whelk catches. Some fishermen who are already using the bait bags have reported a 75 percent reduction in the amount of horseshoe crab bait they need. Conch and whelk are large marine mollusks whose meat is sold in ethnic and Asian markets. In 2000, an estimated 1.8 million horseshoe crabs worth about $2 million in landings were collected along the U.S. Atlantic coast for use as bait in eel and whelk fisheries.

“NOAA Fisheries is proud to partner with Ecological Research and Development Group in this innovative project,” said William Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries. “The introduction of bait bags in the whelk fishery has proven to be a simple win-win way to help conserve a portion of the horseshoe crab resource without burden on the commercial fishing industry. We’re pleased that many fishermen have gladly decided to use the bait bags in their work.”

Use of bait bags is currently mandated in the Virginia whelk fishery. Last year NOAA Fisheries worked with Ecological Research and Development Group to promote their use throughout the Mid-Atlantic. This year’s project will provide over 7,000 bait bags to conch fishermen in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Horseshoe crabs are an ancient group of marine animals related to spiders. They are bottom-dwelling and are found in both near shore and continental shelf habitats from Mexico to Maine. Horseshoe crabs are an integral part of the marine ecosystem and play a valuable role in human health. The crabs are important to declining populations of migratory seabirds, which feed on crab eggs in Delaware Bay before moving north to their Canadian nesting areas. They are also a food source to endangered sea turtles, and horseshoe crab blood, with its extraordinary infection fighting system, has improved the ability of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to assure that their products are free of contaminating endotoxins. After the blood is extracted, the crab is quickly returned to its natural environment, usually unharmed.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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