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Relative Abundance of Horseshoe Crabs in the Delaware Bay Region: A Critical Factor for Adaptive Resource Management

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International Horseshoe Crab Conservation and Research Efforts: 2007- 2020

Abstract

Horseshoe crabs, Limulus polyphemus, occur along the Atlantic and the eastern Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, with the center of abundance in the mid-Atlantic region, from New Jersey to Virginia. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) instituted an Interstate Fishery Management Plan to sustain horseshoe crab populations and, in turn, its fisheries and dependent wildlife species. We have conducted annual benthic trawl surveys of relative abundance of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay region in support of the ASMFC fishery management plan and summarize our findings. The horseshoe crab trawl surveys were conducted in the fall in two areas, the coastal Delaware Bay area (CDBA) from 2002 to 2012 and 2016 to 2017 and the Delaware Bay (DB) from 2010 to 2012 and 2016 to 2017. Average catches of mature males and females were low at the northern and southern limits of the survey area, with notable peaks around 38.3° N and 38.8° N, respectively, corresponding to the vicinity of Ocean City Inlet, Maryland, and around the Delaware Shelf Valley, which is a deep trench outside of DB. Mean prosomal widths (PW) of newly mature and mature horseshoe crabs in the CDBA decreased over the time series. CDBA catch densities of immature males 150–180 mm prosomal width and approximately 10 years of age were correlated with average January Cape May, New Jersey, water temperatures in their first winter. For CDBA and DB waters combined, newly mature males outnumbered females 1.28:1.00, and mature males outnumbered mature females 2.97:1.00. Over the time series from 2002 to 2017, the population of mature horseshoe crabs in the CDBA appeared to increase. Because of the late maturity of horseshoe crabs, we are only now entering the timeframe where population recovery may become evident. Continued monitoring of the horseshoe crab resource will be critical to effective application of the Adaptive Resource Management model.

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Acknowledgments

Our research has been supported by the US Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and commercial entities including Associates of Cape Cod, Bernie’s Conchs, Chesapeake Bay Packing, LaMonica Fine Foods, Lonza, Sea King Corporation, Southern Connection Seafood, and Spots Fish Company.

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Correspondence to Eric M. Hallerman .

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Hata, D.N., Hallerman, E.M. (2022). Relative Abundance of Horseshoe Crabs in the Delaware Bay Region: A Critical Factor for Adaptive Resource Management. In: Tanacredi, J.T., et al. International Horseshoe Crab Conservation and Research Efforts: 2007- 2020. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-82315-3_23

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