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RI Department of Environmental Management
DEM ISSUES EMERGENCY REGULATIONS TO PROTECT HORSESHOE CRABS
Restrictions Begin Immediately, Include Creation of Sanctuary
PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management today took firm steps to protect horseshoe crabs by issuing emergency regulations restricting their harvest. The regulations go into effect at noon tomorrow, June 14.
The action was taken to begin rebuilding a horseshoe crab population that a University of Rhode Island trawl survey indicates has dropped dramatically in the past 40 years, and to comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission management plan for horseshoe crabs that requires a 25 percent reduction in their harvest. The action is also in response to anecdotal evidence submitted at a May 30 hearing that supported the URI data.
An evaluation of the URI trawl survey suggests a dramatic reduction in the abundance of horseshoe crabs from 1959 to the present. Although the URI data indicates a partial recovery in the 1970s, the numbers declined again thereafter and have been consistently low since the early 1990s. The URI survey is the only long-term data set currently available. DEM has recently begun an ongoing effort to document spawning activities and harvesting of horseshoe crabs. Additional monitoring is being undertaken by Save the Bay.
"Although the URI data is indicative, it is limited, and additional information is needed for long-term decision-making," said Malcolm Grant, Associate Director of DEM's Bureau of Natural Resources. "In the meantime, it is responsible fisheries management to take a conservative position and significantly reduce the fishing pressure on the resource while we continue to monitor the population. If necessary, we can adjust the regulations in the future to reflect any new information we receive."
To protect horseshoe crabs when they are most vulnerable, the new regulations forbid their harvest during the four-day moon-tide periods that occur twice a month during May, June, and July. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many horseshoe crabs are harvested during these periods when they come in to shore to spawn. The regulations also require harvesters to have permits, and to submit monthly landings reports to DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife (Wickford Marine Base).
In addition, DEM is immediately creating a spawning sanctuary in Narragansett Bay by permanently closing the areas around Prudence and Patience Islands, extending seaward to 100 feet from the shoreline of both islands, to the harvesting of horseshoe crabs.
Horseshoe crab harvesting permits will be issued to commercial fishermen who hold multi-licenses and to recreational harvesters who are Rhode Island residents. The permits, as well as the reporting forms, will be issued by DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife. The Division is sending information to fishermen known by DEM to harvest horseshoe crabs; all others should call the Division at 789-3094 for permits and forms.