FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gordon Helm
Secretary proposes federal preserve in federal waters off Delaware Bay and halts fishing for horseshoe crabs by Virginia fishermen.
Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced today that plans are moving forward to protect horseshoe crabs in federal waters off the mouth of Delaware Bay. Federal managers are seeking public input on a formal proposal to establish the preserve in federal waters to provide additional protection for local horseshoe crab stocks by prohibiting their harvest near a prime spawning area.
"We are moving ahead with steps to create this sanctuary for horseshoe crabs as part of this administration's commitment to preserve the ocean's critical resources and manage our nation's fisheries sustainably," said Secretary Mineta. "This proposed preserve at the mouth of Delaware Bay is home to a large concentration of American horseshoe crabs and is adjacent to a prime spawning area for these unique animals."
The Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on the proposal during a 15-day comment period that closes on Oct. 31, 2000. The public is asked to submit written comments to Richard Schaefer, Office for Intergovernmental and Recreational Fisheries (Fx2), National Marine Fisheries Service, 8484 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring , MD 20910.
Secretary Mineta today also imposed a state-wide moratorium on fishing for horseshoe crabs in Virginia waters to help ensure the long-term viability of the horseshoe crab and the industries it sustains. The moratorium enforces interstate action to reduce fishing on horseshoe crabs throughout the Eastern seaboard.
In light of uncertainty over the future of the horseshoe crab the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission determined all Atlantic states must be cautious in their harvest to assure the long-term availability of this species. Virginia alone, of the Atlantic states, has chosen not to implement a fishing quota established to protect this important species that provides medical benefits, food for migratory birds, and bait for fishermen.
The moratorium will go into effect on Oct. 23, 2000 because the Commonwealth of Virginia has not complied with a fishing quota established by the commission, which is made up of representatives from all 15 Atlantic coastal states. The commission voted 14-1, with only Virginia objecting, to adopt fishing quotas in state waters from Maine to Florida earlier this year. The moratorium will remain in effect until Virginia complies with the coast-wide regulations to reduce harvests of the species.
Horseshoe crabs are an ancient group of marine animals related to spiders. They are bottom-dwelling and utilize both near shore and continental shelf habitats from Mexico to Maine. Horseshoe crabs move inshore in the spring, especially into beach areas to spawn. They prefer to lay their eggs on sandy beaches within bays and coves that are protected from surf. Eggs take about a month to hatch. Upon hatching, larvae spend about a week swimming in the water column before molting and assuming their bottom dwelling life. NOAA Fisheries estimates that in 1998 about 3 million horseshoe crabs worth about $3 million in landings were collected along the U.S. Atlantic coast for use as bait in eel and whelk fisheries.
Horseshoe crabs are also harvested for use by the medical industry. A portion of their blood is extracted for the testing of bacterial endotoxins in drugs, and medical equipment that holds human blood. Once the horseshoe crab blood is removed, the crabs are returned to the sea alive.
Officials also want to ensure that declining populations of migratory shorebirds have an abundant source of horseshoe crab eggs upon which to feed when they stop to rest in Delaware Bay before moving north to their Canadian nesting areas.
NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the management of Atlantic horseshoe crabs in federal waters, while the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission, consisting of 15 Atlantic Coast states, in cooperation with the District of Columbia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, are primarily responsible for management oversight of horseshoe crab fisheries in state waters. The New England, Mid-Atlantic, or South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils could develop regulations on horseshoe crabs, but have chosen not to do so. In the absence of a federal fishery management plan, the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act allows the secretary of commerce to implement regulations in federal waters that complement the commission's management.
October 12, 2000
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission earlier this year voted 14-1, with only Virginia objecting, to adopt fishing quotas in state waters from Maine to Florida to protect horseshoe crabs. The moratorium will go into effect on Oct. 23, 2000. The moratorium will remain in effect until Virginia complies with the commission's coast-wide regulations to reduce harvests of the species
Under rules created by the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act, NOAA Fisheries has reviewed Virginia's non-compliance with the interstate fishery management plan for horseshoe crabs and can force compliance of the plan through implementation of this moratorium. Virginia was warned on July 11, 2000 that the secretary of commerce, through NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, would declare a moratorium if the state did not abide by the commission's quota.
The commission, which oversees the horseshoe crab fishery through its Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Horseshoe Crab, granted Virginia an annual quota of 152,495 crabs for 2000 to be implemented by May 1. The state continued its quota of 710,000 crabs until July, when it reduced its quota to 355,000 crabs, exceeding the commission's quota by 133% for 2000. Virginia also has sought additional review by the commission.
To date, Virginia is the only state not to comply with the commission's management plan and reduced quotas. The commission notified NOAA Fisheries of Virginia's non-compliance, which triggered the federal moratorium proceedings.
Civil penalties to persons who violate the moratorium can be up to $100,000 per violation, and penalties for criminal violations of the moratorium could be up to $200,000 and 10 years imprisonment.
Proposed Protected Area
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on the secretary of commerce's proposal to create a protected area in federal waters at the mouth of Delaware Bay. The15-day comment period closes on Oct. 31, 2000. The public is asked to submit written comments to Richard Schaefer, Office for Intergovernmental and Recreational Fisheries (Fx2), National Marine Fisheries Service, 8484 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring , MD 20910.
NOAA Fisheries officials recently held a series of public scoping meetings to hear from fishing communities, conservationists and the public in advance of the proposal to hear their concerns about the proposed closed area. Due to the short, 15-day comment period, further public hearings are not planned. Officials are urging those interested in the proposal to forward their comments as soon as possible.
As proposed, the horseshoe crab preserve would be located in federal waters off the mouth of Delaware Bay closing a roughly rectangular, approximately 1,500 square mile area to horseshoe crab fishing. The closed area adjoins state waters south of Pecks Beach, New Jersey to just north of Ocean City, Md. The area was selected because horseshoe crabs are most abundant from Virginia to New Jersey with their center of abundance being around the Delaware Bay area.
This action is part of a coast-wide cooperative
effort to protect horseshoe crabs from over-harvest. All Atlantic
coastal states must reduce their horseshoe crab bait catch by
25 percent under guidelines established by the Atlantic States
Marine Fisheries Commission in its horseshoe crab fishery management
plan. The ASMFC has also recommended this proposed prohibition
on fishing for horseshoe crabs in federal waters within a 30
nautical mile radius of the mouth of Delaware Bay. The proposed
federal closure encompasses the 30 nautical mile radius recommended
by the commission, but is more rectangular in shape for enforcement