Shorebird/Horseshoe Crab Conservation Campaign Archive

Please see below for an archive of our past action to conserve shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. The most up-to-date information on these efforts can be found here.

Photos: Kevin Karlson

Alarming data on shorebirds has led for a call to action. As you may be aware, the Delaware Bay is a critical spring stopover for 9 species of shorebirds, which feed on horseshoe crab eggs.

The number of Red Knots, a state threatened species, has crashed by 54% on their wintering grounds in 2 years alone. In New Jersey, Red Knots are declining 17.9% annually. The over-harvest of horseshoe crabs is the culprit.

In response to the 80% decline in Red Knot population over the past ten years, New Jersey Audubon has joined other leading conservation groups in filing an emergency petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Red Knot as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.  The listing request comes from an alliance of wildlife groups including Defenders of Wildlife, New Jersey Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, the National Audubon Society, Delaware Audubon Society, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Audubon New York, Audubon Maryland-DC and Virginia Audubon Council.

Two journal articles found that absent immediate actions, the Red Knot Delaware Bay population could be extinct within a decade. Federal listing will bring the desperately need protection and resources needed to help preserve this species!

NJ Audubon will continue to provide updates on this important conservation issue. We are on the brink of ecological collapse and must act now for future generations!

The Spring/Summer 2007 issue of New Jersey Audubon magazine contained several articles about the Red Knot and Horseshoe Crab.  We have extracted those pages as a PDF file, and you can download it by clicking here.  The file is a large one (approximately 6MB) and may take a few minutes to download -- but it's worth waiting for.


December 28, 2008 -- Click here to read "Burden of Proof," an article by NJAS Vice President for Research and Monitoring, David S. Mizrahi, Ph.D., which summarizes the efforts made to preserve shorebirds and horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay.

March 25, 2008 -- Governor Corzine signs the horseshoe crab moratorium legislation.
NJ Audubon President Tom Gilmore's remarks at the signing ceremony:


March 18, 2008 -- The NJ Senate passed the horseshoe crab moratorium legislation yesterday by a vote of 39 to 0! The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.  Click Here to read the press release.

March 13, 2008 -- The horseshoe crab moratorium legislation passed overwhelmingly tonight (70-6) in the Assembly.  The Senate will consider the bill this Monday, March 17.  Our initial dialogue with Senators and Senate staff indicate that things look positive for Monday.

March 10, 2008 -- The horseshoe crab moratorium legislation (S1331) was passed out of the Senate Environment Committee yesterday by a vote of 6-0.  The legislation is scheduled for a full Assembly vote this Thursday, and we expect the bill to be posted for a full Senate vote on Monday, March 17.  While anything is possible, passage of the bill seems likely.

February 29, 2008 -- Great news!  Just yesterday, the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 5-0 forwarded the Horseshoe Crab harvest moratorium for vote by the full Assembly.  The Committee members include Assemblymen Doug Fisher, Nelson Albano, John Amadeo, Marcia Karrow, and L. Harvey Smith.  Special thanks to Assemblymen John McKeon and Doug Fisher are merited!

February 21, 2008 -- Bill to Ban Horseshoe Crab Harvest in NJ; NJ Legislators Introduce Important Act to Save Shorebirds from Extinction.  Click Here to read the press release.

February 13, 2008 -- By a vote of 5 (commercial fisheries special interest members) to 4 (recreational fishing members), the NJ Marine Fisheries Council has rejected the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's proposed moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs, setting the Red Knot on a path to extinction.  Red Knots, a robin-sized shorebird, come to the Delaware Bay each spring after flying non-stop from Brazil.  Knots rely on a superabundance of excess horseshoe crab eggs to nearly double their body weight in less than 2 weeks, before flying non-stop to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Due to the reckless overharvest of horseshoe crabs and a subsequent rapid decline of their eggs, the Red Knot population has plummeted from over 100,000 to only 14,800 currently wintering in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. According to over 30 scientists on 4 continents, the Red Knots are facing the imminent risk of extinction.  Three other shorebirds, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, and Sanderling, are facing similar declines.

NJ Audubon Society members submitted over 500 letters and over 30 members testified in support of the moratorium.  Despite this setback, NJ Audubon and its partners are committed to the recovery of Red Knots, other shorebirds and horseshoe crabs on the Delaware Bay.

We and our partners are researching our options for next steps.  We will need your help in the near future, so please stay tuned.

Thanks again for all your efforts.  Collectively, we will prevail!


Eric Stiles, Vice President for Conservation
New Jersey Audubon Society


June 14, 2007 -- The Delaware courts recently overturned Delaware's two-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs.  This setback in no way changes New Jersey's two-year moratorium nor our goal of achieving a moratorium on the harvest of Delaware Bay population crabs.  Delaware will now be adopting new rules allowing for the harvest of 100,000 males annually.

Recent data from Red Knots, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings indicates that abundance and weight gains continue to be well below pre-harvest levels.  NJ Audubon has been working on this issue for over two decades, and we will continue through our education, conservation and research efforts to work for the long-term protection of this invaluable natural gift. 

In addition, we will also continue to push for the listing of the Red Knot rufa subspecies, support spawning beach restoration projects, continue research on Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers and advocate for conservation and research funding. 


June 13, 2006 -- On June 13, 2006, a coalition of conservation groups including NJ Audubon Society called on a federal court to hold the federal government accountable for failing to take critical steps needed to protect the Red Knot shorebird from extinction.  The groups filed the lawsuit after two emergency petitions to list the Red Knot were denied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  It accuses the Service of denying the petitions based on speculative assessments about steps that will be taken to protect the Red Knot, many of which have not come to pass, and of improperly reviewing or ignoring key data about the Red Knots' decline.  Click Here to download the press release in PDF format.

MAY 19, 2006 -- On May 15th, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) 2-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs in New Jersey went into effect. This action will address the immediate threat to red knot populations by allowing the horseshoe crab stock in our state to recover prior to 2010. For this success, we extend a special thanks to Governor Jon Corzine, NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, Assemblyman John McKeon and New Jersey Marine Fisheries Chairman Gilbert Ewing.

However, despite concerns expressed by leading scientists and environmental organizations, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission failed to adopt a regional 2-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs earlier this month. Instead, the Commission decided to allow a delayed, male-only harvest in New Jersey and Delaware, More specifically, the Commission voted to prohibit the harvest of crabs between January 1 and June 7, but still permit the harvest of 100,000 male crabs between June 8 and December 31 in the two states. The Commission also delayed the harvest in Maryland and Virginia federal waters from January 1 to June 7 for two years. These limited protections will go into effect in October 2006.

While the NJ DEP restriction, which supersedes the federal measure, will protect horseshoe crab and red knot populations in New Jersey, regional protection of the crab populations is critical to ensuring the overall survival of the red knot. We will continue working with our partners in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to urge the adoption of more conservation minded measures.

APRIL 7, 2006 -- You can help save the Red Knot from extinction by attending the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) public hearing next week in Pomona, New Jersey. At the meeting, please let decision makers know they should act quickly to save this special bird from extinction by supporting a regional two-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.

Red Knot Hearing Details:
When: Monday, April 10, 2006; 7 PM
Where: Richard Stockton College of NJ, Townsend Residential Life Center Multi-Purpose Room, Jimmy Leeds Road, Pomona NJ. Direction can be found at http://intraweb.stockton.edu/eyos/page.cfm?siteID=94&pageID=4

Thanks in part to your testimony and letters, we are closer than ever to achieving the goal of preventing the extinction of the Red Knot. Last week, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted to support the proposed NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) 2-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs in our state. With this hurdle behind us, we expect DEP to adopt the moratorium shortly. Governor Corzine, NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson and Assemblyman McKeon deserve special thanks for their leadership on this issue.

However, the adoption of the moratorium in New Jersey is only one of the necessary steps to safeguard the Red Knot from extinction and other shorebirds from drastic declines. Protections must be in place at the regional level through the adoption of a regional two-year moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay area, including Maryland and Virginia.



Conservation organizations were encouraged by the action of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to consider a moratorium on the take of horseshoe crabs in New Jersey and Delaware for two years and restrictions on other states to prevent the take of Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs in order to protect the Red Knot. Click Here to download the press release (in PDF format).



by Eric Stiles
Vice President for Conservation and Stewardship

On Thursday, June 2, 2005 I stood among the global giants of shorebird scientists.  Experts from three continents briefed the New Jersey and Delaware Congressional delegation on the fate of the Red Knot rufa subspecies; the population is projected to be at or near extinction by 2010, absent bold action - an immediate moratorium on the harvest of Horseshoe Crabs and emergency federal listing of the Red Knot rufa subspecies.  2005 Red Knot counts from Tierra del Fuego continue to support the 2010 extinction model published by leading ornithologists from 4 continents.

(UPDATE:  Acting Governor Codey issued an Emergency Rule effective June 9 suspending horseshoe crab harvesting in Delaware Bay for 2 weeks, in order to allow the state to consider recently developed scientific information.  Leading regional and national advocates for horseshoe crab and migratory shorebird conservation released a statement in response, which you can view in PDF format by Clicking Here.)

The Delaware Bay, once one of the top four shorebird stopover sites in the world, is imploding.  The 2005 Horseshoe Crab egg density count is the lowest ever recorded.  Red Knot declines are the most drastic among shorebirds worldwide; and Red Knots now have the dubious honor of being one of the most endangered animals in the United States.  Some give the Ivory-billed Woodpecker a better chance of survival. 

To make matters more troubling, Red Knots are the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  Findings suggest that other shorebird species, like Ruddy Turnstones and Semipalmated Sandpiper, are facing similar declines.  

Decision-makers at the state and federal level have the information needed to take immediate conservation actions.  I am an optimist by nature, but the fate (and blood) of this species rests in their hands.   

They will either deserve praise for their bold actions or vile condemnation for destroying one of the most amazing natural gems in the world. 

Click Here to dowload a PDF copy of a letter we sent with our coalition partners to Acting Governor Codey of New Jersey.

Click Here to download a PDF copy of a letter we sent with our coalition partners to Governor Minner of Delaware.

Click Here to download a PDF copy of the Press Release.


Return to Government Relations page to see the latest on this effort.