Maryland Plan to Limit Horseshoe Crab Harvest Will Help Save Rapidly Declining Shorebird Population



For Immediate Release: March 17, 2009

Contact: American Bird Conservancy, 202-234-7181, ext. 216,
, American Bird Conservancy, 202-234-7181, ext. 209,




Red Knot. Photo: Mike Parr
Red Knot. Photo: Mike Parr, American Bird Conservancy

(Washington, D.C.) The State of Maryland announced today that effective April 1 it will require a 2:1 male to female harvest ratio to provide additional horseshoe crab eggs to migratory shorebirds. See the Maryland Department of Natural Resources release below.


“This is a strong step in the right direction in ensuring more critically important horseshoe crab eggs will be on the beach when Red Knots stop to refuel on their long migration northward,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy. “Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded that without greater conservation of horseshoe crabs, the eastern Red Knot (rufa) subspecies could be extinct within a decade. Gov. O’Malley and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are to be commended for taking this action, which we hope will ensure future generations of Americans will be able to see this magnificent bird like past generations have.”


The (rufa) Red Knot, a reddish-brown shorebird a little larger than an American Robin, annually migrates from Tiera Del Fuego to its Arctic breeding grounds, stopping to rebuild critical energy reserves by feasting on horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay. Unfortunately, science has shown the number of available horseshoe crab eggs has declined, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that, “The primary factor threatening the red knot (sic) is destruction and modification of its habitat, particularly the reduction in key food resources resulting from reductions in horseshoe crabs …”.


Due to a 15% decline in Red Knot numbers at the species’ wintering grounds in the past year, and a 75% decline from 1985 to 2007, FWS has increased the listing priority for the species from a six to a three. Only 14,800 Red Knots were counted in 2007 at the species’ primary wintering areas.


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Maryland Department of Natural Resources


DNR Fisheries Service Recommends New Horseshoe Crab Harvest Ratio

Stronger Conservation Measures Aimed at Protecting Female Horseshoe Crabs and Migratory Shorebirds

To provide further protection to the Atlantic coast population of horseshoe crabs and increase the availability of horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware Bay to hemispheric migratory shorebird populations, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is implementing a 2:1 male to female horseshoe crab harvest ratio, effective April 1st. There is currently no sex ratio limit.


The State of Maryland has long taken a leadership role in the management of Atlantic coast populations of horseshoe crabs. In 1998, Maryland implemented actions to reduce its horseshoe crab landings by 72%. This leadership action led to the development of a coastwide horseshoe crab management plan through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 1999. After 10 years, the Delaware Bay population of horseshoe crabs is showing signs of recovery. Unfortunately, similar signs of recovery of migratory shorebird populations are not evident and there is increasing risk of extinction to some species.


DNR is implementing this harvest ratio limit after conducting a technical analysis and reviewing public input on a range of management options, including closure of the female horseshoe crab fishery. This action will immediately increase the availability of horseshoe crab eggs to migratory shorebirds in Delaware Bay this May and June. Maryland watermen, both horseshoe crab harvesters and conch and eel fishermen who use horseshoe crabs as bait, will be impacted by this action but will retain their current harvest quota.


“The Department is responsible for the conservation and management of our natural resources,” said Tom O’Connell, Director, DNR Fisheries Service. “We also recognize the increasing dependency of horseshoe crabs to Ocean City watermen and seafood processors, and believe this is a prudent action that balances these needs while ensuring future generations have the opportunity to experience the Delaware Bay phenomenon between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.”


Along with its vital role as part of the coastal ecosystem, the blood of the horseshoe crab provides a valuable medical product critical to maintaining the safety of many drugs and devices used in medical care. A protein in the blood called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) is used by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to test their products for the presence of endotoxins, bacterial substances that can cause fevers and even be fatal to humans. The LAL test is one of the most important medical products derived from a marine organism to benefit humans. This new action does not impact the biomedical industry.