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Delaware

Andrew Manus Q&A

Before joining The Nature Conservancy’s staff, Andrew Manus laid important groundwork for horseshoe crab habitat conservation as the Director of Delaware’s Division of Fish and Wildlife.  During his tenure with the state, Andrew promoted and supported a multi-state horseshoe crab Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) to revive dwindling populations. He also shepherded a sanctuary program that has helped the Conservancy and other organizations protect more than 65 percent of the Delaware Bay’s beaches, which serve as critical horseshoe crab and shorebird habitat. Andrew talks about what he has learned about horseshoe crab and shorebird conservation, and his plans for continuing to champion these efforts.
“We saw the writing on the wall with declining horseshoe crab and shorebird populations.”

Andrew Manus, Assistant State Director, The Nature Conservancy of Delaware

TNC:

Can you start us off with some history?

Andrew Manus:

Historically, horseshoe crabs have been used for a variety of things, including commercial fertilizer and more recently, as bait in the eel and conch pot fisheries. During the 1990’s, female horseshoe crabs were being harvested at an alarming rate – significantly impacting beaches used for spawning along the Delaware Bay. Migrating shorebirds depend on these spawning areas and the plentiful horseshoe crab eggs for refueling during long migrations between South America and the Canadian Arctic. Red knots have been particularly affected.

TNC:

So you closed the beaches?

Andrew Manus:

The establishment of horseshoe crab spawning beach closures was the reasonable and responsible way to go given our mission as a fish and wildlife management agency. It was not a popular decision with some folks at the time, but it worked because the closures had the force of regulation behind them and they are enforced to this day.

TNC:

Why was a coast-wide Fishery Management Plan for horseshoe crabs so important a decade ago?

Andrew Manus:

Simply put, there was no limit on the amount of horseshoe crabs that commercial fishermen could harvest. Some states implemented limits, but there was no consistent strategy for managing the population throughout its range.

TNC:

How did the Fisheries Management Plan change that?

Andrew Manus:

When the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted a Fisheries Management Plan for horseshoe crabs in 1998 ? at the urging of Delaware and other member states ? it put into place state-by-state harvest reductions that collectively protected horseshoe crab and shorebird populations, and also an important commercial fishery. It represents the single most important action taken to date to protect and manage all of these things.

TNC:

At the time, these seemed like drastic measures. Why did you have to move so quickly?

Andrew Manus:

We saw the writing on the wall with declining horseshoe crab and shorebird populations. We knew that if we didn’t move aggressively to take care of horseshoe crabs and their habitat, fishermen would lose an important source of bait. Shorebirds would lose a food source. The world would lose a species that provides a snapshot of the Earth’s prehistoric past. Horseshoe crabs have also been instrumental to scientific advancements in the medical field.

TNC:

How often are regulations revisited?

Andrew Manus:

The ASMFC has a standing Horseshoe Crab Management Board that routinely meets. The process also allows for the annual review of new data such as population assessments and a review of member states’ compliance. The Fisheries Management Plan is updated through a public amendment process as new information becomes known. In fact, The Nature Conservancy recently weighed in on the plan’s Amendment V.

TNC:

Recent reports have indicated that numbers are up. To what do you attribute this success?

Andrew Manus:

First, I’m not sure we’re ready to claim success, although things have stabilized and show some promise. Any success we have achieved can be attributed to hard work of the ASMFC and state fisheries managers. Conservation organizations, the federal government and the academic research community also rallied around a strong commitment to sound science. This is really a case where we let science lead the way, for the benefit of both wildlife and a fragile commercial fishery.

TNC:

What is one of your proudest moments related to conserving horseshoe crab habitat?

Andrew Manus:

Voting at an ASMFC meeting to recommend that the National Marine Fisheries Service establish a reserve appropriately named after Dr. Carl N. Schuster Jr., an individual who has researched and championed the conservation of horseshoe crabs for more than four decades. Established in 2000, this 1,500-square mile sanctuary protects the area’s largest aggregation of horseshoe crabs during their annual migration into the Delaware Bay. It symbolizes what we all can do together if determined enough.

TNC:

Management aside, what can be done to benefit horseshoe crab habitat?

Andrew Manus:

Since horseshoe crab management is a multispecies issue, we also need to support research related to the life cycles of visiting shorebirds, and other plants and animals that thrive in the same habitat. For example, despite positive signs in population growth of horseshoe crabs around Delaware Bay in recent years, red knots show no sign of recovery.

We should also support efforts to protect private beach and bayfront properties through acquisition and conservation easements.

Finally, all of these strategies require funding. I actually refer to it as “The Three B’s,” bucks, beaches and birds. Conservation costs money and that’s how people can help. We’re doing well, but there’s a lot more to do.


 

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