Red Knots Get to Feast on Horseshoe Crab Eggs
TRENTON, New Jersey, March 26, 2008 (ENS) - Governor Jon Corzine Tuesday signed legislation imposing a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in New Jersey so that starving shorebirds can feed.

Horseshoe crab eggs at Delaware Bay are a primary source of food for red knots on their way north to breed in the Canadian Arctic.

These migratory shorebirds make one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 9,300 miles from their Arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

But over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs has led to a diminished supply of food for the red knots and has brought the species to the brink of extinction.

"The effects of human behavior often have widespread, unintended consequences that reverberate across the animal kingdom for generations, like the ripple effect in a pond that started out as one small disturbance," Governor Corzine said.

"It is with that in mind that we are here today to extend the moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting, so as to reverse the endangerment and prevent the extinction of the red knot species and other shorebirds."

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine displays the newly enacted moratorium with a horsehoe crab shell on his desk. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

"This moratorium will be held in place until the populations of both horseshoe crabs and red knots have returned to a level where they will be self sustaining as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service," the governor pledged.

The measure is backed with stiff financial penalties to deter potential offenders. Fines for the continued harvesting of horseshoe crabs will be $10,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent offense.

The legislation, A2260/S1331, was an initiative of Democrats in both houses of the Legislature.

"The decline in New Jersey's horseshoe crab population has left the red knot perched on the edge of extinction," said Assemblyman McKeon, D-West Orange. "We simply cannot allow an entire species to be wiped out when the ability to halt the red knot's decline is within our reach."

"With today's bill signing, New Jersey is fulfilling its sacred responsibility to undo years of damage to the centuries-old relationship between the State's horseshoe crab population and the red knot shorebird," said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex.

"Over-fishing and lax oversight on the taking or horseshoe crabs in the 1990s has led to the starvation and near extinction of the red knot," said the senator. "Today, we are taking this opportunity to preserve the food chain, and allow the red knot a chance at survival."

These red knots were photographed at Breydon Water, UK. December 2004 (Photo by Andrew Easton)

The Delaware Bay is the linchpin of the red knot's spring migration because it is the center of the Western Hemisphere's only population of horseshoe crabs.

Horseshoe crab eggs, unlike any other food resource, are quickly metabolized into fat. This allows the red knots and other shorebirds to double their body weight in two to three weeks.

The fat reserves put on during a stopover along the Delaware Bay allow red knots to survive and continue courtship, mating and egg production until food becomes available. Without a sufficient fat reserve, the consequence is loss of reproduction, or worse, mortality.

Emergency protections are needed to prevent further catastrophic declines in numbers of red knots warns a February letter submitted to federal officials by nine conservation groups, including Audubon.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall are urged to use emergency authorities to list two subspecies of red knot under the Endangered Species Act.

"There is no question the Red Knot is in very deep trouble and needs emergency protection if it is to survive," said Audubon policy and advocacy specialist Betsy Loyless.

She cites a new report by 20 shorebird biologists from around the world which details the rapid and ongoing decline of migratory shorebird populations in the Western Hemisphere.

Audubon applauded the new legislation, saying, "As the administration weighs the petition for more federal protection, the New Jersey legislature has taken bold action that would protect the Red Knot's food source."

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