Wetlands Institute to celebrate its first Spring Shorebird, Horseshoe Crab fest

Horseshoe crabs spawn along Delaware Bay beaches about the time migratory birds arrive in the area on their way to the Arctic. The crab eggs are a nourishing feast for the birds.

Researchers announced Wednesday that a new bait alternative may help reduce the number of horseshoe crabs harvested to be used as bait.

Female horseshoe crabs are considered the best bait to attract eel and whelk, also known as conch. But harvest limits are in place to protect the population in the Delaware Bay and threatened migratory shorebirds that feed on the crabs' eggs.

In 2008, the New Jersey legislature banned the use of horseshoe crabs as bait. Fishermen have been trying to overturn that ban ever since.

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Researchers with the University of Delaware and DuPont that they have developed a recipe for artificial bait that uses just a small amount of crab and food-grade chemicals that lasts four days. The researchers found that the recipe was as productive for catching eel and whelk as using a piece of crab in a trap.

"This artificial bait will allow fishermen to catch the same amount of eel and whelk but without using so much horseshoe crab meat," said Dr. Nancy Targett, Dean of the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. "We can now reduce the long-term effects of horseshoe crab harvesting."

LaMonica Fine Foods in Millville, N.J., has started producing the bait and selling it in 50-bait slabs with a shelf life of at least three weeks for $1 per bait.

"Working with the reduced amount of horseshoe crab bait since the '90s has been such a burden on fishermen. With our eco-bait, fishermen will be able to save time and money," said James Roussos of LaMonica. "They no longer need to make their own bait from scratch and will be able to bring in the same catches they used to."

Staff Writer Wallace McKelvey contributed to this report.

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