Recently, there's been a great deal of discussion about two important species found on the Delaware Bay shore - the horseshoe crab and the red knot.
Horseshoe crabs provide an essential food source for red knots and are extremely valuable to the biomedical field. They also provide critical bait for commercial conch fishermen in New Jersey, whose business is their livelihood.
There is no doubt that we must save both. It's just a question of how we achieve that goal.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has developed a prudent and measured method of severely limiting the harvest of horseshoe crabs, which is followed by nearby states. It limits harvesting to a certain number of weeks and prohibits it on beaches; it bars harvesting of females, and it requires crabs only be harvested individually and by hand.
Here in New Jersey we have completely banned all harvesting, which I believe is the wrong approach.
First, when the moratorium was implemented in 2008 the state promised fishermen that their licenses, which the ban rendered useless, would either be purchased by the state or that they would be allowed to use them for scientific research purposes. The state never followed through.
Second, although local fishermen were told other states would follow suit in banning horseshoe crab harvesting, that ultimately did not happen. Nearby states actually follow the policy of the ASMFC. But because New Jersey has a complete ban on harvesting, our harvest quota established by the commission very possibly could go to Delaware - where our fishermen now purchase their bait.
If that likelihood occurs, we will not have saved one crab or one red knot as a result of our ban. All we will have done is increased income for Delaware fishermen at the expense of our own.
I recently introduced legislation to lift our moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting and adopt the well-thought-out policy of the ASMFC. Its plan is based on science and allows the birds, the crabs and our fishermen to survive, which should be the goal for all of us, policymakers and stakeholders alike.
SEN. JEFF VAN DREW
D-Cape May, Cumberland
Cape May Court House