Horseshoe Crab

Alternative Bait Research Project

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Horseshoe crabs are pre-historic time travelers that visit our local beaches every spring for their nuptial reunion. They are an important part of our marine ecosystems and to our own survival, and today they need your help.

Horseshoe crabs play a vital role in human health, protecting us from bacteria. Tests using horseshoe crab blood, ensure that heart stents, pacemakers, joint and cataract replacements, radioactive tracers in PET scans, along with millions of doses of flu vaccine, insulin and intravenously delivered antibiotics and chemotherapies, are free of endotoxin. Endotoxin is a toxin that is dangerous to humans and is responsible for characteristic symptoms of a disease (e.g., in botulism, 70 million endotoxin tests are performed each year).   

Horseshoe crabs also play a crucial role in our local ecosystems. Their eggs provide a critical food supply for migratory shorebirds. In fact, horseshoe crab eggs represent the majority of food eaten by shorebirds while stopping by our coastlines (comprising 60% percent of their total stomach contents). Our local finfish also rely on the eggs and larvae of horseshoe crabs as a food source.

Horseshoe crabs are important to our local fisheries. They are used as an important bait by our local baymen so maintaining abundant stocks of adult horseshoe crabs is an important component of ensuring the long-term survival of our fishing industry. Fishing moratoriums exist in states surrounding New York, but this puts pressure on the local population by raising the market price for this highly valued bait. Although regulated, poaching over limits has been repeatedly reported. What’s worse is that it takes a horseshoe crab 10-11 years to reach sexual maturity and begin to breed, so damage done to the population in 2008 is just showing up now in monitoring data.

Is there a solution?  Yes, and it’s an easy solution and it exists now: an alternative bait which was developed by scientists at the University of Delaware. This alternative bait needs further testing in our long Island bays for increased efficacy. Once confirmed and fully verified in our waters, we can roll out the new bait program to our local baymen. 

We can do this in a mere 2 years.  But, we can only do it with your help. Yes, that’s right, with your help the horseshoe crab population can begin to recover, shorebirds and finfish will again feed and thrive, and we can continue to protect humankind from endotoxins.

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Pretty important, right? We need your help now with a donation of any size in support of our Horseshoe Crab Alternative Bait Research Project.  When we get it, we can begin conducting bait tests as early as this summer!

Tests will be managed and overseen by marine scientists at Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program.

Dr. Matt Sclafani   ms332@cornell.edu   Senior Extension Resource Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Dr. Matt Sclafani is a marine ecologist who has been studying horseshoe crab conservation for over 15 years. He has established the New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network which coordinates over 600 volunteers annually to collect data for conservation management. His research on horseshoe crabs has also included using radio and acoustic telemetry to assess horseshoe crab movement and habitat use, as well as understanding connectivity and survival. Other research interests include fish passage restoration and shellfish enhancement and restoration projects. Matthew has also served as the New York State DEC Coordinator for the Peconic Estuary Program and has an interest in marine conservation projects that involve citizen participation

Dr. Matt Sclafani
ms332@cornell.edu

Senior Extension Resource Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Dr. Matt Sclafani is a marine ecologist who has been studying horseshoe crab conservation for over 15 years. He has established the New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network which coordinates over 600 volunteers annually to collect data for conservation management. His research on horseshoe crabs has also included using radio and acoustic telemetry to assess horseshoe crab movement and habitat use, as well as understanding connectivity and survival. Other research interests include fish passage restoration and shellfish enhancement and restoration projects. Matthew has also served as the New York State DEC Coordinator for the Peconic Estuary Program and has an interest in marine conservation projects that involve citizen participation

Emerson Hasbrouck   ech12@cornell.edu   Senior Educator and former Marine Program Director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Mr. Hasbrouck was recently appointed by Governor Cuomo as a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission representing New York (each state bordering the Atlantic has only three appointed representatives). Mr. Hasbrouck offers his expertise to the Commission in order to responsibly conserve and manage our coastal fisheries here in the Atlantic. The Commission is responsible for the conservation and management of 25 fish species over the past 70 years. Mr. Hasbrouck’s research and publications have focused on gear modifications to minimize bycatch as well as age and sex-specific selectivity of winter and summer flounder fisheries.

Emerson Hasbrouck
ech12@cornell.edu

Senior Educator and former Marine Program Director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Mr. Hasbrouck was recently appointed by Governor Cuomo as a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission representing New York (each state bordering the Atlantic has only three appointed representatives). Mr. Hasbrouck offers his expertise to the Commission in order to responsibly conserve and manage our coastal fisheries here in the Atlantic. The Commission is responsible for the conservation and management of 25 fish species over the past 70 years. Mr. Hasbrouck’s research and publications have focused on gear modifications to minimize bycatch as well as age and sex-specific selectivity of winter and summer flounder fisheries.

Scott Curatolo-Wagemann   sw224@cornell.edu   Stormwater and Fisheries Specialist. 20 years working for Cornell Cooperative Extension on Long Island marine issues. Recently has coordinated marine debris removal in the Long Island Sound with derelict lobster gear assessment, removal, and prevention; determining selectivity and optimum mesh size to harvest three commercially important Mid-Atlantic species; and the Fresh Indigenous Sustainable Healthy (F.I.S.H.) program to grow the Long Island marketplace for locally caught/grown seafood. Currently on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council- Advisory Panel for spiny dogfish and the NOAA, National Marine Fisheries- Advisory Panel for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) Workshops.

Scott Curatolo-Wagemann
sw224@cornell.edu

Stormwater and Fisheries Specialist. 20 years working for Cornell Cooperative Extension on Long Island marine issues. Recently has coordinated marine debris removal in the Long Island Sound with derelict lobster gear assessment, removal, and prevention; determining selectivity and optimum mesh size to harvest three commercially important Mid-Atlantic species; and the Fresh Indigenous Sustainable Healthy (F.I.S.H.) program to grow the Long Island marketplace for locally caught/grown seafood. Currently on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council- Advisory Panel for spiny dogfish and the NOAA, National Marine Fisheries- Advisory Panel for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) Workshops.

How will the money raised be used? The Horseshoe Crab has been traditionally used as bait by our local baymen to catch whelk and American eel. The baymen currently use an estimated 125,000 crabs in a season for bait, selecting especially for the female horseshoe crabs carrying eggs. The new alternative bait we are testing will reduce that number to 30,000 saving approximately 100,000 horseshoe crabs per year, a big difference to the breeding population. This alternative bait was developed by scientists at the University of Delaware. It needs to be tested in our Long Island bays for efficacy. Working in close concert with our local baymen, we will utilize the new bait formula that reduces the amount of horseshoe crab needed. CCE marine scientists will compare eel and whelk traps that are randomly assigned with the artificial bait to those fished with traditional horseshoe crab bait. 

The baymen will be given GPS coordinates to place the traps in similar bottom types and currents in areas that are known to have eel and whelk. The traps will soak for one or two days and be checked by CCE staff, over the 10 key fishing weeks of the summer season. Eel and/or whelk will be enumerated, measured for size and weighed. The catch with alternative bait will be statistically compared using paired t-tests to determine if there is a difference between the catch of the old and new baits. We will also determine the proper amount of bait that works effectively by comparing different sizes of baits to optimize for catching eel and whelk. This will ultimately aim to provide cost-efficiencies for bay men and minimize the use of horseshoe crabs used for the artificial bait. This plan requires staff, boats, and material to complete. It is a two-year plan, as the baits first need to be proven to work and then made available in large quantities at a low price for our baymen.