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Jesse

Horseshoe Crabs get Commerce Dept.s attention...

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It seems that horsehoe crab populations are being wiped out by overfishing by the bait industry. However, they are very important to the pharmaceutical industry so what happens? They are getting a proposed sanctuary in the Delaware Bay and the Secretary of Commerce has warned Virginia to do something about the overfishing. As the old saying goes, money talks. Too bad stripers and menhaden can't get the same type of attention. Here is the article from the NY Times.

 

U.S. Acts to Protect Vital Horseshoe Crab

By FRANCIS X. CLINES

 

LEWES, Del., Aug. 8 -- Federal authorities announced plans today for a 1,800-square-mile sanctuary from Delaware Bay out into the Atlantic to protect the rapidly dwindling stock of horseshoe crabs that are vital to the pharmaceutical industry and to the annual migration of a dozen species of shorebirds.

 

At the same time, Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta ordered Virginia to join the other Atlantic states in recognizing an emergency in the horseshoe crab population. Under the secretary's action, Virginia must either voluntarily reduce its catch significantly or find the state's industry shut down by federal order by October, when the government's proposal for the sanctuary is also expected to take effect.

 

"Virginia has been strip mining horseshoe crabs," declared Daniel P. Beard, vice president of the National Audubon Society, in praising the federal action to protect a critical resource that scientists say has been decimated in the last decade.

 

"Virginia's actions amount in our view to piracy," Mr. Beard said, noting that Virginians had been gradually monopolizing horseshoe crabbing to provide prized bait for the booming conch and eel export industries, while other states had cut back in the name of the environment.

 

Gov. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, a leader of the preservation movement who pressed federal authorities to crack down on Virginia, thanked Secretary Mineta at a shorefront ceremony here.

 

"The fate of the horseshoe crab is in jeopardy," Mr. Carper declared.

 

While their state is singled out as a renegade, officials in Virginia maintain that they have gone it alone not because of pressure from their crab bait industry but because the other Atlantic states' voluntary quotas are too severe to be justified by current scientific research.

 

The sanctuary, in which the government will forbid the taking of any horseshoe crabs, is to cover a 30-by-60-mile swath of the Atlantic centering on the mouth of Delaware Bay, the world's prime population region for the crabs.

 

Ten years ago, an estimated 1.24 million crabs spawned on the beaches of Delaware Bay, laying trillions of eggs vital to the spring hemispheric bird migration.

 

But scientists who favor the sanctuary say a variety of research has shown a decline of as much as 90 percent in horseshoe crabs across the last decade, a result of overfishing. Accordingly, the crabs' egg production has been measured in some studies at about 10 percent of its 1990 level.

 

That raises concern for the crabs' preservation and, scientists say, for the survival of the one million shorebirds that rely on excess crab eggs as food for the final leg of their migration from South America to the Arctic Circle. Last spring, scientists reported birds leaving undernourished, the completion of their long journey in doubt.

 

In addition, the horseshoe crab, a pre-dinosaur survivor more closely related to spiders than to crabs, contributes $50 million to the size of the drug and medical research industry. Its blue, copper-based blood is widely used to test drugs for bacteria and to inhibit certain cancer cells. The Food and Drug Administration mandates use of the crab blood in the testing of all new injectable medicines.

 

Secretary Mineta said today that he hoped to negotiate a settlement with Virginia fishery officials but that he would not hesitate to close down the state's horseshoe crab industry if necessary.

 

The other members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, from Maine to Florida, have each accepted a quota reflecting a cut of at least 25 percent in harvests. But Virginia has resisted its recommended quota of 152,495 crabs and has become the main marketer in the region for the valuable bait source, surpassing one million crabs sold in one recent year.

 

"There is no actual scientific basis for the quota," John Paul Woodley Jr., Virginia's secretary of natural resources, insisted in an interview. Last month, he added, state officials compromised by halving the state's own quota to 355,000 crabs, which still is more than double the quota federal officials are demanding. Mr. Woodley said Virginia was also mandating mesh bait bags for conch fishing that, he said, will allow using the crabs more than once.

 

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jlaw58@prodigy.net

 

[This message has been edited by Jesse (edited 08-09-2000).]

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