Central Delaware
Horseshoe crabs catch a break with new bait
Horseshoe crabs get tossed around by the waves along the beach of Kitts Hummock. On Wednesday, scientists held a press event to discuss a new alternative bait product that will help reduce the number of horseshoe crabs harvested from the Delaware Bay. Harvest limits are in place to protect the Delaware Bay’s horseshoe crab population and the threatened migratory shorebirds that depend on their eggs as a food source. (Submitted photo/Robin Coventry)

LEWES — Dr. Nancy Targett, Dean of the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment announced a newly developed alternative bait for catching eel and conch, also known as whelk, on Wednesday.

“This artificial bait will allow fishermen to catch the same amount of eel and whelk but without using so much horseshoe crab meat. We can now reduce the long-term effects of horseshoe crab harvesting,” she said.

Previously, fishermen in the area have primarily relied on horseshoe crab meat alone as bait because it has proved to be the most effective meat to catch eel and whelk. For each bait, fishermen would use either one female horseshoe crab or two males.

Laws were put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in the early 1990s to restrict the number of male horseshoe crabs fishermen are able to use and completely forbid the use of females. These regulations were enacted as a response to a considerable drop in the horseshoe crab population.

Since the laws were enacted, a project began to develop a an equally effective bait using less horseshoe crab meat. After years of the University of Delaware working alongside DNREC, DuPont scientists and commercial fisheries, the answer to the bait dilemma has finally been found.

“We were faced with a complex, multi-dimensional problem. Our success has been a true result of people with a shared passion working together,” said Anne Masse, Global Safety, Health and Strategy Leader at DuPont.

This alternative bait will greatly reduce the number of horseshoe crabs harvested on the East Coast. Horseshoe crab conservation is vital in the Delaware Bay. Nearly half a million shorebirds, notably the endangered red knot, rely on horseshoe crab eggs during their migration.

During the birds’ two-week stop on the Delaware shore during the end of May and beginning of June, they eat enough sea life to double their weight in order to make the last leg of their journey to the Arctic. A very large portion of their diet is horseshoe crab eggs, which are conveniently laid on the shore shortly before the birds’ annual arrival.

The bait has reduced the amount of horseshoe crab per bait down from one full male (the limit enforced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to as little as one-eighth to one-sixteenth of crab per catch. The horseshoe crab meat is mixed with brown seaweed, kelp, baking soda, citric acid and other food-grade chemicals. The ingredients are then solidified in a slab.

“The savings and conservation are real. This was an innovative effort which will provide a win-win for both the economy and environment for years to come,” said Secretary of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Collin O’Mara.

The new bait is manufactured by LaMonica Fine Foods in Millville, N.J. LaMonica is commercially producing the bait because a large part of their business relies on selling whelk.

The bait is made in 50-bait slabs and it available to fisherman for $1 per bait. The bait needs to be kept refrigerated and LaMonica estimates that it will have a shelf life of at least three weeks.

“Working with the reduced amount of horseshoe crab bait since the ‘90s has been such a burden on fishermen. With our eco-bait, fishermen will be able to save time and money. They no longer need to make their own bait from scratch and will be able to bring in the same catches they used to,” said James Roussos of LaMonica Fine Foods.

Tests of the bait in the Delaware Bay have been very successful so far for catching both eel and whelk. The bait will be used on a new type of trap to reduce the number of sea organisms other than eel and whelk being caught.

Staff writer Ashton Brown can be reached at or 741-8272. Follow AshtonReports on Twitter.