I did not know it was horse crab week, but apparently it is. Let's make it official --happy Horse Shoe Crab Week.
Last weekend, the NY/NJ Bayshore Watershed Council's volunteer horse shoe crab monitoring group reported a dismal evening. These awesome folks went out there along the northern New Jersey coast in the cold rain and found cold facts. Many dead crabs and very few live ones.
A few days later, there was my urban safari in Jamaica Bay complete with mating crabs and angry birders (they were angry because people involved in a Hindu ceremony nearby were accidentally stepping on the crabs).
The next day, I learned that poachers were plucking crabs out of the bay uncomfortably close to where we had just seen them. Talk about angry.
I wish we'd had seen the poachers on our urban safari. I envision a throng of nature-lover types trying to throw rocks at them or sick a raptor on them.
All kidding aside, horse shoe crabs need protections and taking too many is just plain bad. Plus, taking large females laden with eggs is the best way to undercut an entire species, a species that has been fine for over 300 million years old.
The poachers don't care. They come in the middle of the night and steal the crabs. They sell the ancient creatures as whelk bait. There's a big appetite for whelk in -- you guessed it -- Asia.
Only one poaching boat was caught, another got away, and probably ten times that are even ever spotted.
In Africa, elephant poachers can be shot on sight. Here, a fine of $500 is far too lenient for horse shoe crab poachers. They should face bigger fines and maybe some time in jail.
While we're at it, throw in a required lesson about ecosystem services and biodiversity -- the value of a healthy natural world to people. Hint: It's priceless.
Show them how important the crabs are to migrating red knots and other birds, and to predators that eat them like sea turtles and sharks, and to the colonies of critters that live on and around the crabs. Let them know that horse shoe crab blood taken from live crabs has saved people's lives.
Then put them in those orange jumpsuits and make them stand in the water and count and tag the prehistoric crabs. Call it poacher's community service.
It's a little funny but I'm not laughing. If you see a poacher, call the police, the mayor, the wildlife service, and the Marines.
The next day -- it is Horse Shoe Crab Week don't forget -- I read the good news that Delaware scientists have developed an artificial whelk bait, which could decrease the demand for horse shoe crabs as bait.
My fingers are crossed on that one. Then again, New York, like New Jersey has already done, could ban horse shoe crab harvesting altogether. This might not stop the poachers but it would likely slow them down, deflate their markets.
Take action and contact the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets horse shoe crab fishing limits. Let them know you value horse crabs as something more than bait. Avoid eating whelk and tell people why. Also, write your representative and senators.
Happy Horse Shoe Crab Week!