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Help Identify Horseshoe Crab Spawning Habitat

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife is encouraging the general public to assist in identifying horseshoe crab spawning habitat throughout the state this spring. Collecting information on potential spawning habitat is the result of an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Fishery Management Plan for Horseshoe Crabs adopted in 1998 and is required of all coastal states from Maine to Florida.

While many Delaware Bay beaches and some Atlantic coastal bay beaches are known to support horseshoe crab spawning from year to year, the Division would appreciate current, personal observations from individuals on current sites of spawning activity.

The horseshoe crab spawning season in the mid-Atlantic area usually occurs during May and June when large numbers of horseshoe crabs move onto sandy beaches to mate and lay eggs. Spawning habitat generally includes sandy beach areas within bays and coves that are protected from significant wave action. Male and female horseshoe crabs are coupled during mating and egg-laying.

During the May and June horseshoe crab spawning season, migratory shorebirds, especially the red knot, are likely to be present on the beaches feeding on horseshoe crab eggs to replenish their body weight and continue the migration to their arctic breeding grounds. Under no circumstances should survey participants disturb any feeding shorebirds while making their horseshoe crab spawning observations. This is a critical feeding period for migratory shorebirds, especially on the Delaware Bay beaches.

This spring, persons interested in reporting horseshoe crab spawning activity should be alert to the dates of new and full moons: May 16 - full moon, May 31 - new moon, June 14 - full moon and June 29 - new moon. For a few days before to a few days after each of these four dates, horseshoe crab spawning activity is likely to be at its peak intensity.

Individuals may report their observations on horseshoe crab spawning activity by accessing the form entitled "Identification of Horseshoe Crab Spawning Habitat in the Inlets and Bays of New Jersey," or by calling the toll free phone number 1-866-NJ-CATCH (1-866-652-2824). When calling, be sure to leave your name and telephone number so that someone can contact you to record your information.

All information received over the next few months will be analyzed, summarized, mapped and reported to the ASMFC and state regulatory agencies so that this critical habitat may be protected.

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