Artificial bait could cut use of horseshoe crabs

A team of University of Delaware researchers led by Dr. Nancy Targett, DuPont scientists, fisheries biologists, watermen and conservation groups were joined by Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Secretary Collin O’Mara to make the announcement May 29 at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.

For years, commercial eel and whelk fishers have dealt with a dilemma: They know the best bait to attract eel and whelk, locally known as conch, is a female horseshoe crab. However, harvest limits are in place to protect the Delaware Bay’s horseshoe crab population and the threatened migratory shorebirds that depend on their eggs as a food source. Commercial fishers have long worked within these limits, dividing each bait crab into pieces to bait multiple eel or whelk pots.

“Horseshoe crabs are an ecologically and economically important species in the Delaware Estuary, which hosts the largest concentrations of horseshoe crabs in the world,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “This alternative bait is the result of a great partnership among academic researchers, scientists, government, a private corporation and the commercial fisheries industry. By working together, they have found a solution that has great economic and environmental benefits, both now and for the future of bait development.”

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