5 min

Red Knot Conservation Effort

(my March 2008 post at toledotalk.com)

From Ohio birding e-mail listserv :

Subject: Good news on Red Knots
From: Kenn Kaufman
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2008 10:41:21 -0400

Here's a piece of outstanding good news from our friends in New Jersey, one that has direct impact on birding in Ohio.

First, some background. There have been some mentions on this listserve already about the plight of the eastern population of the Red Knot (subspecies rufa), which winters in southern South America and nests in the high Arctic. Most of this population stops over along Delaware Bay (between New Jersey and Delaware) in spring, after a nonstop flight from Brazil, to feed -- primarily on the superabundant eggs of the horseshoe crabs along certain beaches -- in order to fuel up for their next nonstop flight to the Arctic, so that they can arrive there in good condition for successful breeding.

Quite a few of their favored beaches have protected status; the problem was that their food supply was dwindling because a handful of people were overharvesting the horseshoe crabs offshore. This population of Red Knots had plummeted from over 100,000 individuals to fewer than 15,000. Every scientist familiar with the situation agreed that it would be wise to stop harvesting horseshoe crabs and let their population build up again in order to preserve the population of Red Knots (and other migratory shorebirds) that relied on this food source.

Earlier this year a small regulatory body in New Jersey, the NJ Marine Fisheries Council, had voted by a narrow margin to allow continued taking of horseshoe crabs. Bird conservation groups opposed this move, and a vigorous campaign of letters, phone calls, e-mails, and public meetings called on the New Jersey legislature to overturn this decision and impose a moratorium on taking of the crabs. The New Jersey Audubon Society and other groups did a superb job of bringing pressure while keeping it on a civil and calm level, and their efforts paid off: the moratorum on taking horseshoe crabs cleared the NJ Assembly by a vote of 70 to 6, and cleared the NJ Senate by a vote of 39 to 0. The bill will not become law until it is signed by Governor Corzine, but we are highly encouraged by the overwhelming vote in favor of conservation.

For us in Ohio, this increases our chances of seeing Red Knots, Sanderlings, large numbers of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones, and various other shorebirds here in our home state. Kudos to all involved (including those Ohio birders who were calling and writing members of the NJ legislature in recent weeks). A strong effort for bird conservation really can pay off at times. My personal thanks to Julie Shieldcastle, Conservation Director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and Mark Shieldcastle, Research Director for BSBO, for most of the details included in this message.

Kenn Kaufman

Additional Info :

Media :

The [New Jersey] Senate yesterday approved a ban on horseshoe-crab harvesting. The moratorium, approved by a 39-0 vote, is designed to help the red knot, a migratory shorebird that feeds on the crabs' eggs along the shore of the Delaware Bay in May.

The red knot population has plummeted as the eggs have become more scarce. Environmental groups and agencies say the species could be extinct by 2010. Under the bill, harvesting of horseshoe crabs will be banned until the red knot population reaches 240,000 or until a fisheries plan satisfies the state Department of Environmental Protection that the population of both the crab and the red knot can be stabilized at viable levels. The latest count of red knots overwintering at Terra del Fuego, Chile, at the tip of South America, is 14,800.

The ban is opposed by fishermen who harvest horseshoe crabs to use as bait. They say global warming and habitat destruction may be to blame for the birds' diminishing numbers.

Statement of Betsy Loyless, Senior Vice President, National Audubon Society

"We applaud the legislature for protecting a precious species that is in deep trouble. With deliberate speed and in a bipartisan fashion, they have found a way to protect not just the red knot, but a great natural attraction in New Jersey and Delaware's shores. We urge Governor Corzine to sign the bill and make it law, and we urge Delaware to follow their lead."

"This achievement comes in spite of foot-dragging from the Bush Administration, which has been slow to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence indicating the red knot's plight."

Last month, conservation groups including Audubon sought emergency protections from the federal government to prevent further catastrophic declines in numbers of red knots ( http://audubon2.org/watchlist/viewSpecies.jsp?id=173 ). The emergency petition for listing the species for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act came on the heels of a new report by 20 shorebird biologists ( http://www.audubon.org/campaign/esa/doc/red_knot_report.pdf ) from around the world, which detailed the rapid and ongoing decline of the migratory shorebird's populations in the Western Hemisphere.

The new report confirmed that both the rufa and roselaari species of red knot in the United States need immediate protection or risk further decline and extinction. In addition to the evidence showing decreased populations of both subspecies of red knot, the report also found that weights of red knots caught in the Delaware Bay during their spring stopover have suffered significantly due to the reduced availability of horseshoe crab eggs that are needed to sustain the shorebird on the last leg of their migration to breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Delaware and New Jersey currently do not have strong enough conservation measures in place to ensure adequate numbers of horseshoe crabs, and the Department of the Interior has failed to request the funds necessary to deal with the growing number of candidates -- now totaling 282 species.

#bird - #environment - #nature

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