NOAA 2000-140
Contact: Gordon Helm

Commonwealth is not following Interstate Fishery Management Plan

In an effort to ensure the long-term viability of the horseshoe crab and related industries throughout the Eastern seaboard, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service today announced that it will soon impose a state-wide moratorium on fishing for horseshoe crabs in Virginia waters.

The moratorium would go into effect in mid-September 2000 unless the state agrees to comply with the fishing quotas established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is made up of representatives from all 15 Atlantic coastal states. The Commission voted 14-1, with only Virginia objecting, to adopt sustainable fishing quotas in state waters from Maine to Florida. The moratorium would remain in effect until Virginia complies with the coast-wide regulations to curb overfishing of the species.

"We are still hopeful that Virginia will join the other coastal states in protecting horseshoe crabs, but if not, we are prepared to act" said Penny Dalton, NOAA Fisheries Director. "By choosing to ignore the quota, Virginia is jeopardizing the livelihood of those who depend on the crab."

The commission, which oversees the horseshoe crab fishery in state waters, granted Virginia an annual quota of 152,495 crabs for 2000. The state instead declared a self-imposed quota of 710,000 crabs for 2000. To date, Virginia is the only state not to comply with the commission's management plan and reduced quotas. The commission asked NOAA Fisheries to intervene and impose the moratorium until Virginia joins the other 14 states and lowers its harvest to a sustainable level.

Under rules created by the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, NOAA Fisheries can review non-compliance by states of interstate fishery management plans and can force compliance of those plans through implementation of moratoria. Virginia was warned on July 11 that NOAA Fisheries would declare a moratorium if the state did not abide by the commission's quota.

Horseshoe crabs have existed in their present form for 250 million years. These unique animals are used as bait in the whelk and eel fisheries, their eggs are an important food source for migrating shorebirds, and they are extremely important to the medical industry. Pharmaceutical companies and others in the medical industry rely on horseshoe crab blood to test drugs and medical equipment for bacterial contamination. Once the horseshoe crab blood is removed, the crabs are returned to the sea alive. As a species, they are extremely vulnerable to overfishing because spawning adults are easily harvested and take 9 to 10 years to mature.

In a related action today, Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta announced NOAA Fisheries' intention to establish a horseshoe crab preserve off of Delaware Bay.