Horseshoe Crab Season Closure Avoided

OCEAN CITY – State environmental officials this week announced a dramatic change in horseshoe crab harvest regulations along the Atlantic coast of Maryland including Ocean City and its coastal bays in a two-prong effort to preserve the prehistoric crabs and the migratory birds that feed off their eggs.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries service officials this week announced they are implementing new horseshoe crab regulations including a two-to-one, male to female harvest ratio, which will become effective April 1. Prior to the action taken by the DNR announced on Tuesday, there was no sex ratio limit.

While the action taken Tuesday does create new limitations on horseshoe crabs, it does avoid a more draconian solution. DNR officials are implementing the harvest ratio limit after conducting a technical analysis and reviewing public input on a range of management options including a closure of the entire horseshoe crab fishery. As a result, commercial watermen throughout the area, including horseshoe crab harvester and conch and eel fishermen who use horseshoe crabs as bait, will be impacted by the action, but will retain their current harvest quotas.

According to DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell, implementing the two-to-one, male to female harvest ration will allow the state to meet the requirements handed down by the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFS) on quotas without forcing a closure of the horseshoe crab fishery. It will also help maintain the unique relationship between the crabs and the vast number of migratory birds that feed on their eggs each year.

“The Department is responsible for the conservation and management of our natural resources,” he said. “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 phenomenon between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.”

Maryland has long taken a leadership role in the management of Atlantic coast populations of horseshoe crabs. For example, in 1998, the state implemented actions to reduce the harvest of horseshoe crabs by 72 percent, which led to a coast-wide management plan implemented by ASMFC a year later.