Red knots looooove to dine upon the energy-rich eggs of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay -- the half-way point in the birds' globe-spanning migration from the southernmost tip of South America to the cold of the Arctic.

Unfortunately for the red knots, commercial fishermen also looooove horseshoe crabs, which they carve up and use as bait. The dramatic rise in horseshoe crabbing over the last two decades has been linked to a similarly dramatic drop in red knot populations.

For years now, environmentalists have sought a ban on horseshoe crab harvesting in the Delaware Bay area, so the red knots would have a chance to recover. They got a partial win: a cap on harvests in Delaware, and a two-year ban in New Jersey. But New Jersey's Marine Fisheries Council this week voted to end its moratorium on crabbing -- despite cautions from the state's Department of Environmental Protection that the red knot would likely go extinct if horseshoe harvesting resumed.

Why the move by the NJMFC? Commerce, sure. The fishermen want to make money, and crabs are cheap bait. But according to the Asbury Park Press, the vote was also fueled by politics, and a fear that another state agency was getting into their business: 

Even members who voted for the ban said they did so mostly because state Department of Environmental Protection officials warned that legislators would move to strip the council of its control over the horseshoe crab situation.
Petty political jealousies make for bad decision-making, folks. Let's hope that this decision doesn't spell doom for the red knot.

This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in February 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Food or bait?
Decline in shorebird population linked with fishermen overfishing the horseshoe crab.