Virginia's fisheries managers have voted to halve the state's harvest of horseshoe crabs, but that is unlikely to satisfy the federal regulators who moved in June to shut the state's lucrative fishing of the ancient creatures.
"Virginia has taken some action to reduce their harvest levels, but that falls far short of what is required," Bruce Freeman, chairman of the horseshoe crab management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said yesterday. "Either it meets its numbers or it doesn't."
The vote by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission is the latest maneuver in a long-running battle over the crabs, which provide bait for the multimillion-dollar-a-year conch and eel fisheries, food for migrating shorebirds and blood for pharmaceutical tests.
The Atlantic states commission, worried that horseshoe crab stocks are dwindling, ordered harvest cuts last winter, but Virginia balked, arguing that the plan was based on flimsy science.
VMRC insisted it would maintain an annual quota of 710,000 crabs, far more than the 152,495 in the Marine Fisheries commission plan.
The federal commission found Virginia to be out of compliance with the plan in June, and then-Commerce Secretary William M. Daley threatened to close the fishery if the state did not reduce its harvest.
Tuesday, VMRC voted to cut the harvest to 355,000 crabs after a Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences study found that half a horseshoe crab would attract as many conch as a whole crab.
"If we can catch the same amount of conch with half the bait, the quota can be cut in half," said Jack Travlestead, fisheries manager for VMRC. "But I'm not terribly optimistic the commission will change their minds. The optimum answer is to reduce our dependency on that animal as bait, then the whole problem goes. "