Monday, August 20, 2012

The End

Dear Friends:
     The time has come to end this blog.  It's been a great run and I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing some of my discoveries about horseshoe crabs with all of you.  I appreciate your comments and your enthusiasm for this enigmatic creature - one that continues to amaze and continues to survive.
     But, other literary ventures beckon and other discoveries await.  Thus, this will be the final posting.  Thank you so much for your time and your encouragement.  I hope you will obtain a copy of the book on which this blog has been based - "Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor" (Ruka Press, 2012) - and that you will continue to share its story with friends and colleagues.
Thank You,
Tony Fredericks

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Cause They're Ugly - Part VII

            Just before pulling out of the tiny parking lot I gave pause to what I had just seen.  I jotted notes (legal notes, of course, since Sheila [or Brunhilda] might be watching me) and recorded some thoughts on my previously prohibited tape recorder.  Upon my return home I would need to wrap up the book (“put it to bed,” as they say) and tie up any loose ends.
            I pondered.
            Unquestionably, the facilities I toured were clean and pristine, the workers were efficient and dedicated, and the hum of activity was constant and purposeful.  The facility was part of a larger enterprise that was working to produce a product that, perhaps one day, might help me – or help you - survive a medical procedure.  But it wasn’t the facility that impressed me, it was the tiny creatures aligned in long rows with people sticking sharp needles into their backsides that impressed me most. 
            The horseshoe crabs didn’t ask to be here.  Once upon a time they were peacefully crawling over the sand and silt scattered across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Then, from out of nowhere, some big scoop or net came along and snatched them away.  Machines or human hands piled them into large blue tubs, put them on some form of motorized conveyance, and hauled than about 30 miles or so to a nondescript white building in some small town in southern Maryland.
            There they were sorted into categories and placed into other bins.  They were wheeled into a long chilly room where a pair of human hands would lift them up, bend their bodies in two, and wedge them between two wooden boards.  Their backsides would be swabbed with disinfectant and then, joy upon joy, a very sharp object would piece their body and puncture their heart.  They would sit there (sit there?) for five to ten minutes while some of their body’s vital fluids drained into a large glass bottle placed beneath them.
            Then they were pulled from the racks, re-deposited back into some portable tubs and unceremoniously trucked into a back room.  They waited there and then were loaded into trucks, transported back to the ocean, and gently placed back into the arms of the Atlantic Ocean.  All without complaint; all without resistance.

            I guess in some small way I had developed a kinship with these creatures – we were brothers of a sort.  They were a part of my life – as they had always been – but now I was armed with personal information about the critical role they played in my life, in the lives of my wife and children, in the lives of my friends and neighbors…and, most likely, in your life, too.  Biologists have a term for this in the animal world – it’s called a symbiotic relationship.  Symbiosis is defined as “a close and often long-term interaction between different biological species.”   Symbiotic relationships include those associations in which one organism lives on another (mistletoe is a good example) or where one partner lives inside the other (you know, like all those bacteria that live in your intestinal tract).
            Do horseshoe crabs and humans have a symbiotic relationship?  Do we have “a close and often long-term interaction?”  Is one of us dependent on the other for our existence or survival?  If so, which one?
            It was easy for me to determine all the benefits you and me and a couple of billion humans have obtained from horseshoe crabs.  But there was still a persistent question tickling the back of my brain – a question I couldn’t quite answer as I swung out of Salisbury, ramped the car up to 65 miles per hour, and traced my way home along Route 50.  What biological benefits would we be able to provide horseshoe crabs, particularly after what they’ve given us?

          It's been quite a ride!  I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my views, discoveries and adventures with horseshoe crabs over the course of the past year-and-a-half.  But, all good things must eventually come to an end.  And, so it is with this blog.  Other writing ventures beckon and other literary assignments call...and I must heed their demands.  Consequently, this will be my last blog posting.  I sincerely hope you have enjoyed the ride and that you will ealso njoy the fruits of this journey in my book - Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor (Ruka Press, 2012).  The book has garnered many rave reviews from several well-respected people and I'm delighted with its message.  I hope you'll consider getting a copy.
          Thanks for your support and your enthusiasm for, arguably, one of the most fascinating creatures on this planet!
Tony Fredericks

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Cause They're Ugly - Part VI

            It is clearly evident that one of absolutes throughout the entire processing of LAL is a constant attention to sterility and disinfecting.  Denise informs me that the biggest part of the day is devoted to disinfecting everything – machines, gloves, working surfaces, bottles, crabs – everything is cleaned or disinfected on a constant and regular basis.  Even gloved hands are sprayed with disinfectant so as to not introduce any bacteria. 
            We leave the processing room and pass through the crab holding room in the front of the building.  The crabs bled today are stacked in large holding bins and will be transported back to the ocean later in the afternoon.  This is also a receiving area for arriving crabs – all of which are brought in big blue tubs every day.  All of the crabs are rinsed thoroughly with well water; the rinsing is just to get the loose debris off and every effort is taken to not injure the crabs. 
            We pass back into the bleeding area, and as we observe the blood collection process again, this time from the back side of the bleeding room, I ask Denise about the ratio of male to female crabs during the bleeding process.  “The number of males and females is reported to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, with the end product being roughly a 50/50 ratio of males to females for the entire season.”  While each individual bleeding session may have more males or more females, the 50/50 ratio is the goal by the end of the season.  The Maryland Department of Natural Resources monitors the entire process: the number of trawls, how long each trawl can be, how many crabs are caught by each fisherman, how many males to females he brings in, and how many are rejected for size.  Every aspect of the operation is controlled and monitored.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'Cause They're Ugly - Part V

            Shortly after I arrived I met the charismatic and very personable facility manager - Denise Wolf.  The facility is located in the southern part of Maryland; a few miles south of the Delaware border and a mere stone’s throw (assuming one could throw a stone a distance of about 30.4 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean – a geographical position designed to enhance the survival rate of the crabs trucked in and trucked out on a daily basis.
            Denise informed me that all the crabs bled at Lonza come from off the continental shelf – primarily the continental shelf off Maryland and Virginia.  None of the crabs come from Delaware Bay.«  She made it absolutely clear that all the crabs used at the facility eventually go back into the ocean.  Apparently some crabs processed by other biomedical companies are sold again for bait purposes.
            After some “ground rules” about what I could and could not do while inside the facility, Denise led me on tour.  After grabbing my (non-sterile) clipboard and my (equally non-sterile) pen and we begin our journey.  I soon discovered that carrying on a conversation through the gauze of our face masks and the constant hum of machines (that I am not permitted to describe) would be a constant challenge (Hmmm, I thought to myself.  How would Bond have handled this?  What about Damon?)
            As we enter the bleeding room I can see a long row of horseshoe crabs – each wedged between two white planks at about eye level (human eye level, that is, not horseshoe crab eye level).  There are approximately 20-30 crabs being bled into 500ml liter sterile bottles.  Each of the crabs is sprayed with a disinfectant prior to being bled.  After spraying, a worker comes by and uses a cotton swab to further disinfect each crab’s arthrodial membrane.  At all times sterile conditions are maintained throughout the bleeding process…more to protect the product rather than the crab, I am told.
            Each crab is then stuck with a very sharp needle attached plastic syringe-type devise.  The needle pierces the hinge between its prosoma and opisithosoma and is inserted into the crab about 1/4 inch.  Shortly after the needle punctures the cardiac sinus of each crab the (blue) blood begins draining into a bottle placed beneath each crab.  Workers must be careful to pierce the arthrodial membrane and then the cardiac sinus.  If the gut is punctured, gut material would contaminate the entire bottle with bacteria.  However, these are pros and their practiced hands, after hundreds or thousands of heart punctures seldom make a mistake. 
            The blood, which is a light-blue, almost turquoise in color, descends into each of the bottles - some are barely dripping while others are flowing at a fairly constant rate.  Once it gets down to a slow drip the needle is pulled out.  A few of the crabs decide not to cooperate – they aren’t bleeding at all.«  After each crab has been bled I watch as one of the workers works her way down the line, and using a portable electric drill (good old Black and Decker), she punctures the left hand flange on the rear of each crab’s prosoma. Since it is 2011 the hole is drilled into the left side of the carapace; next year (2012) is an even year, so a hole will be drilled into the right side of each bled crab.  During each harvesting season, fishermen look for these holes; if a hole is present they can tell if a crab has been bled in the current year or in a previous year. 
            Each of the 500 ml bottles used to collect the turquoise-blue blood also has an anticoagulant to prevent any clotting from taking place.  Immediately after a cadre of crabs has been bled, the syringes are removed.  The crabs are then returned to oversized bins and wheeled out of the operating room (excuse me, bleeding room).  As the recently bled crabs are being wheeled away in readiness for the next batch, a few workers are cleaning the stainless steel tables with disinfectant.  A new set of crabs is rolled in, wedged between the boards, and the operation repeats itself.
            I watch closely as Sheila (I’m allowed to use what is apparently her real name, although (since I’m up on current spy protocol) that may be a sneaky diversionary tactic to confuse me so that I don’t recognize that she is, in reality, a company informant [named Brunhilda] watching my every move) goes through the entire process.  Sheila has been bleeding crabs here for 13 years and has a good eye for the process.  She is business-like, methodical, and knows her craft well.  I watch her go through the entire procedure with a sense of efficiency as well as a respect for the crabs she is handling.  To her, these are not inanimate objects, but rather life-saving organisms temporarily entrusted to her care.  She treats them efficiency and she treats them well.
            After departing the bleeding room we take off our coats, masks, booties, and other protective gear and re-dress in similar sartorial splendor prior to entering another sterile room.  We have now entered the Processing Room.  The bottles from the bleeding room have been passed through an air lock and into this section of the facility where they are put into a centrifuge.  The centrifuge is designed to separate the cells from the serum or hemolymph.  After centrifuging, the cells will be left on the bottom of each container and the hemolymph, or blue solution, will be poured off.  One of the workers will then re-suspend the cells and wash them in liquid media.  After the washing process they’ll go into the centrifuge again.  Once they are centrifuged, the cells can then be lysed (the breaking down of a cell).

« The harvesting of horseshoe crabs for biomedical use requires a special permit.  Prior to 2001, biomedical companies were required to return all horseshoe crabs to the same location from which they were collected.  Current regulations allow biomedical companies to sell their bled horseshoe crabs to the bait industry, although most bled horseshoe crabs are still returned to the ocean. Monthly reports (to the ASMFC) are required on harvest numbers and percent mortality up to the point of release (including mortality occurring during harvest, shipping, handling and bleeding).  Additional regulations enacted in 1998 require biomedical companies to evaluate the post-release mortality of horseshoe crabs.
« The crabs are not killed by the bleeding process and it is a requirement of the FDA that the crabs be returned to their natural environment within 72 hours of capture. The biomedical companies are regulated in their blood extraction process, although each has unique bleeding methods, method of capture, distance and method of travel to bleeding lab, holding time and conditions, and methods of return. Thus, the impact of the blood extraction processes on survival of the horseshoe crabs varies between operations.
Each time a crab is bled they sacrifice approximately 1/3 of their blood.  Once returned to the ocean each crab will quickly replenish their blood supply, but it takes a few months for their blood cell count to recover.  Current regulations allow for only one bleeding per crab per year. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

'Cause They're Ugly" - Part IV

          In the 1960s and 1970s I was a fan of the James Bond movies.    He was a true action hero - vanquishing the wicked, bedding the beautiful, and preserving the very tenets of the free world with his wiles, strength, and cunning.  With each new book and each new film I would envision him as the ultimate secret agent – sneaking around world capitals and ornate castles to quash military-industrial plans for taking over the world while disposing of nefarious and devious individuals with thick European accents and very hungry sharks as pets.
            About six weeks before the manuscript for this book was due to my editor, I was offered an opportunity – while clearly not on the same level as James Bond’s cloak-and-dagger opportunities – to view a place rarely seen by the general public.  I had been invited to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to tour the horseshoe crab bleeding facility of Lonza (Chapter 1) in the small college town of Salisbury.  I was offered a rare opportunity to see the actual horseshoe crab bleeding process in person and use that information to complete the LAL story begun in the first chapter.
            However, before I made the trip I was advised that I could not take any photographs, nor could I tape record any of the conversation I was to have with the plant manager.  I could take handwritten notes, but I could not take away any visual or verbal information.  This was top secret stuff – proprietary information – and since James Bond wasn’t around I now imagined myself in a Matt Damon movie.  I was about to enter a secret facility, with very secret information, and clusters of very secret people who talked in low whispers, wore starched while lab coats, carried clipboards and walkie-talkies, and ate cellophane-wrapped sandwiches in sterile lunchrooms.
            On top of all the secrecy I was required to wear the always fashionable blue hair net, starched white lab coat, baby blue “booties” over my shoes, sterile face mask, and special goggles over my glasses.  I wanted to try my best Matt Damon impersonation, but the thick pad of gauze over my mouth muffled my usually witty repartee making me sound more like Big Bird or Cookie Monster on Sesame Street.  It was evident that I would have to leave the fight against the forces of evil and the worldwide plague of tyranny in Mr. Damon’s capable hands.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"'Cause they're ugly" - Part III

          Glenn Gauvrey of ERDG was equally emphatic.  “I can connect every man, woman and child and domestic animal in the world to the horseshoe crab.”  He re-emphasized that humans are not going to stop having kids or animals vaccinated and that those same humans are not going to stop having knee replacements and hip replacements.  By the same token, medical personnel and pharmaceutical companies are not going to stop testing for the presence of endotoxins.  “All of that is directly related to horseshoe crabs – whether those crabs were harvested from the Atlantic Ocean or whether the products made from those crabs were eventually used in Nevada, Louisiana, or Wisconsin.”
            “We’re all connected to this animal because there’s something that takes its place in terms of insuring the safety of the pharmaceutical products we take.”  Gauvrey made the point that the pharmaceutical industry is growing, on average, about 5% -10% per year.  As a result, “There are more products, more devices, and more procedures – all of which need or require the use of LAL to ensure the safety of the general population.  If we’re interested in our health and our neighbor’s health and our children’s health and our animal’s health, we need to be concerned about this animal.  Because it’s giving of itself to help us.” 
            Gauvrey’s passion ramped up several degrees.  The enthusiasm in his voice and the intensity of his words was palpable.  “The horseshoe crab gives its blood to the biomedical industry, it gives it eyes to research, it gives its eggs to the shore birds, and it gives its body to the fishermen.  It gives all these things and as a result of all these gifts that it gives, it’s just barely breaking that line with a certain majority of people who choose to pay attention, barely!” 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"'cause they're ugly!" - Part II

          Well after Brockmann’s “beach incident,” she reminded me that “Every single person has benefited from horseshoe crabs and that is primarily because of the medical tests.  Everything that goes into the human body is tested to make sure that it is not contaminated with bacteria.  The LAL test has become the standard for all injectables.  Hip replacements, heart valves, and anything else that goes into the human body has been tested against horseshoe crab blood.”
            “From a personal point of view,” Brockmann emphasized, “the answer to your question would be that they’re just such fascinating creatures and so unusual. I always think to myself, when I’ve been in the field for a little while, it’s like studying a Martian. They don’t share a common ancestor with any other group for four-hundred and fifty million years.”  For Brockmann there’s nothing else like them on this planet.  “And yet, all of us studying their biochemistry, or their blood, or their visual system are finding fundamental principles that apply to all kinds of species on the planet.”  We all use lateral inhibition in helping us identify visual patterns – a critical principle first discovered in studies of horseshoe crabs.  “So, although [crabs] are Martians in the sense that they don’t share a common ancestor with anybody else, all life has these basic [and surprising] similarities. My personal view is that they’re so absolutely fascinating and they get even more intriguing as you learn more about them.”
            “I think,” Brockmann stated, “that it’s very important to emphasize that this funny looking creature that you don’t think is worth much; this stupid, "ugly" animal is actually important to the ecosystem, to science and to me.”  As a scientist, Brockmann is concerned about the unbelievable ignorance surrounding these animals.  She worries that there are so many individuals who hold the belief that these animals are of no consequence.  “This animal is of consequence and so are a lot of other animals.”
            My conversations with Carl Shuster yielded similar information and similar passion.  Shuster told me that there’s a lot about this animal that interfaces with our activities, particularly human health.  He made the point that the crab’s heart has been well studied and there is a positive relationship between activation of the heart by nerve impulses and intramuscular activity.  Some of these processes also come into play in human anatomy as well.  “Much of what we know in the visual sciences has been aided by what has been studied in the horseshoe crab optical system.”
            With fire in his eyes he said, “If you want to know something about the world around you and what influences it and you want to pick an animal that’s had greater influence than any other on human health and human life, the horseshoe crab maybe is it.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor" is now available!

Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor can now be obtained through a special pre-publication offer from the publisher.  Log on to the Ruka Press web site (  Click on the announcement for "Horseshoe Crab."  When the order form appears, enter the code "PRE" into the coupon box and you will receive an automatic 25% discount off the regular price.  This special offer is good only until the scheduled release date for the book (May 22, 2012).

Please feel free to share this information with friends and colleagues.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"'cause they're ugly!" - Part I

          I suppose that if any animal in the world should have an inferiority complex it might as well be the horseshoe crab.  You would think that a creature that has been around for considerably longer than Tyrannosaurus rex or bad customer service from commercial airlines would get some respect.  Alas, such is not the case.
            I suspect that part of the reason most people have a somewhat diffident attitude towards Limulus is because of their looks.  “Cute” is probably not the first word you think of in any face-to-face encounter with a horseshoe crab.  “Cute” is a word normally assigned to soft, furry critters like koala bears and those ever-present kittens on non-stop web cams.  Young kids and old ladies especially love cuddly creatures ‘cause you can turn them into stuffed animals or post pictures of them around the foyer of your house.  But, a picture of a horseshoe crab – no way, José!
          Dr. Jane Brockmann tells the story of the time when she was on a beach in Delaware.  As she was sitting there observing horseshoe crabs, she noticed a man and a woman walking down the beach.  The tide was coming in and a pair of horseshoe crabs (in some serious amplexis) began to crawl up out of the water.  The man walks over and looks at the spawning pair.  He then sees a nearby board, picks it up, and slams the animals as hard as he can…not once, but two or three times.  Brockmann was so taken by surprise and so incensed that she shot up and cried, “Why’d you do that?”  He turned to her, a look of defiance on his face, and replied, "’cuz they’re ugly."
          Imagine walking down the street in your town and some beefy motorcyclist comes up to you and slugs you right in the face with a good right hook.  After sufficiently recovering, you ask the heavily-tattooed individual, “Why the hell did you do that?”  And the heavily-tattooed individual replies, “’cuz you’re ugly.”  Really messes up your day!
          Throughout the research for the book Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor there was one question I would pose to almost every scientist, marine biologist, environmentalist, horseshoe crab enthusiast, or researcher.  That was, “Why should the average person care about horseshoe crabs?” or “Why should someone in the Midwest or on the West Coast care about horseshoe crabs when they are exclusively an East Coast species (specifically Limulus polyphemus)?”  I was particularly curious as to why folks in Minnesota or New Mexico or Oregon should have any kind of interest in this enigmatic creature when there were none around their “neck of the woods” for them to see.
            In almost every instance, the answer came back the same – “Because they are so much a part of our lives!” 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part XV

            The issues, however, have not all been resolved.  In the early part of the 21st century a substantial decline in populations of migrating shorebirds was reported.  Some studies indicated that these birds were not gaining sufficient weight (they are heavily dependent on horseshoe crabs eggs for their sustenance) during their migration stopover along the Delaware Bay and could not successfully complete their journey and eventually breed.  Other studies conducted in both the Arctic and South American ranges of shorebirds showed a significant decline in viable populations.             
            Surveys in the Delaware Bay indicated a stable population of horseshoe crabs, but a population that is also subject to the pressures of several environmental factors over which humans have no regulatory or legislative control.  Crab populations were good, but shorebird populations were not.  Questions arose - not easily answered questions - about the connections between the two populations.  How does one influence the other?  And to what extent?  How are they interrelated, interconnected, intertwined?
            As you will discover in Chapter 8, the birds are dependent on the crabs for a significant portion of their ability to survive.  The crabs are partially dependent on the actions and practices of humans for their overall survival.  It would be safe to say that the connections and interrelationships are tenuous, fragile, and evolutionary.  The results of any mandates or legislation, on the other hand, may be permanent and irrevocable.  Simply stated, there are many stakeholders up and down the line.  It is conceivable that Mother Nature will be the final arbiter – irrespective of what we want.
            Suffice it to say, horseshoe crabs have been around for a very long time and they have proven themselves to be a most useful species – for humans as well as other organisms.  It remains to be seen whether the crabs will be able to continue their multi-faceted role in the decades and centuries to come.      

Monday, March 19, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part XIV

            If it is true that “Necessity is the mother of invention,” then the proverbial “magic bullet” arrived by a most circuitous route.  But to understand that “invention” we need to take yet another side trip.  We need to take a look at how horseshoe crabs were traditionally used as bait.
            When watermen fish for eel or conch, they would typically take a whole male or half-female horseshoe crab and place it on a spike inside a fishing pot.  There, the smell of the crab attracted the targeted catch.  Once trapped, however, the conch (along with many other creatures) is free to eat the bait, reducing the bait’s effectiveness (Once the bait was consumed by the trapped animals, so was its effectiveness at catching more animals.).  One fisherman, Frank Eicherly, began experimenting with a plastic mesh bag that held part of the horseshoe crab to the bottom of a conch pot with bungee cords.  What Eicherly discovered (another endorsement for the saying “The best ideas are often the simplest ideas.”) is that the bag didn’t diminish the lure of the bait, but it did significantly prevent its consumption.  Eicherly discovered additional benefits of this procedure including the fact that he used less bait, changed it less often, and was able to reduce his need for horseshoe crabs by as much as 76% (Imagine reporting to your boss that you were able to increase the company’s profits by 76%.  He (or she) might be doing an Irish jig on your desk [admittedly, not a pretty sight!]).
            This “invention” was nothing short of phenomenal.  It was quickly picked up by several groups including the Environmental Research and Development Group (ERDG – the primary horseshoe crab preservation group in the world), the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences Sea Grant program, and Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.  Tests were run, experiments were conducted, and studies were commissioned to determine the feasibility of using bait bags to reduce the harvesting of horseshoe crabs.  Viola!  In quick order mandates were passed and policies were enacted for the use of bait bags by the conch industry.  The bags were subsequently manufactured in large quantities and distributed free of charge to watermen.  The payoff - substantial declines in horseshoe crab bait use.

Monday, March 12, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part XIII

            The public pressures increased and fisheries managers were asked to develop a management plan for a species that had previously received low recognition from the general population and had not been subjected to any form of regulation.  Whatever legislation resulted would have profound impacts on the livelihood of commercial fishermen, several species of migratory shorebirds and, potentially, the horseshoe crabs themselves.  For many with ties to horseshoe crabs this was new territory; potentially a legislative land mine.  Demands for regulations escalated along with an escalation in the demand for crabs.  As the months and years passed populations of spawning horseshoe crabs throughout the Bay region began to decline.  There was a call to develop a coast-wide Horseshoe Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP) – the goal being to balance the needs of the divergent user groups with the health and sustainability of the crab population.
            Eventually the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted an FMP that included a state-by-state quota system to manage the coast-wide horseshoe crab harvest.  They also established an extensive reserve off the coasts of Delaware and New Jersey that would provide vital habitat protection for the development of sub-adult horseshoe crabs in an area that had been heavily harvested by trawlers.
            Despite a plethora of regulations, the debate continued and intensified.  Birders and environmental groups cited growing concerns over declines in shorebird populations and pressured for a moratorium on harvesting; fishermen felt scientific data on horseshoe crab populations was uncertain, that their harvests had already been cut back, and they lobbied for no further restrictions.  Obviously, the issues were many and were all inexorably intertwined.  There seemed to be no quick and easy solution.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part XII

          Horseshoe crabs are also used as bait in the Delaware Bay whelk pot fishery industry.  Domestically, whelk meat is used principally in ethnic markets in the Northeast United States, whereas international use is concentrated in Asia.  Whelk fishing has grown substantially over the years due primarily to the rules and restrictions placed on other fisheries.  Several Canadian provinces are stepping up efforts to produce raw whelk meat products for markets in Korea, Japan and China.  Just as in the eel industry, whelk pot fishermen typically used whole crabs (one female [preferred] or two males) to bait each pot.
          For many years the eel and whelk markets were relatively small and largely unregulated. However, they were closely tied to horseshoe crabs; simply because the crabs were the bait of choice for capturing these seafood delicacies.  Then, in the latter part of the 20th century the markets – particularly in the Orient – expanded exponentially.  More people wanted more eel and more people wanted more conch.  This could only mean one thing - a rapidly expanding need for horseshoe crabs as eel and whelk bait.
          Not surprisingly, the demand for horseshoe crabs exploded as well.  Large boats trawled and dredged the bottom of Delaware Bay during spawning season gathering thousands of crabs at one time.  Large refrigerated tractor-trailers lined the roadways flanking Delaware Bay beaches to collect these masses of crabs and haul them away to New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia.  It was a time for making lots of money and anyone with access to a flatbed truck or large transport vehicle could make a considerable sum of cash in a short amount of time.
          Just as the horseshoe crab population was beginning to rebound due to the demise of the fertilizer industry, the “crabs-for-bait” pressure was added to the mix.  Since horseshoe crabs take approximately 9-11 years to reach sexual maturity, the mass harvesting of egg-laden females had the potential to have a significant and potentially negative effect on populations…perhaps for many years.  Added into this formula was an epidemic of studies indicating that migrating shorebirds, which are dependent upon horseshoe crabs eggs for their ultimate survival, might also be negatively impacted.
          Pressures increased.  There was an environmental pressure on horseshoe crabs from the watermen who need the crabs for bait, a market pressure from the eel and conch industry for adequate supplies of this food source – a food source that was caught primarily with the use of crabs as bait, and a conservation pressure from environmentalists and birders who were afraid that substantial declines in crab populations would translate into substantial declines in shorebird populations.  An additional pressure from the biomedical industry on their need for horseshoe crabs for LAL bleeding made for an interesting and most problematic environmental and economic conundrum.  The horseshoe crab “industry” needed to be managed to ensure the survival of the species as well as the survival of all the constituents dependent upon this prehistoric creature.  By the mid 1990s there was a siren call for legislation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Arriving soon!

Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor
is scheduled to be released on May 22, 2012.

Here are some early reviews:

"A fascinating, relevant, revealing, and endlessly enjoyable book." - Richard Ellis, author of The Great Sperm Whale and Tuna.

"An accurate and very readable introduction to Limulus polyphemus.  I highly recommend it." - Dr. Carl N. Shuster, Jr., The College of William and Mary.

"A reminder that a skillful storyteller can find a good tale anywhere." - Peter Laufer, author of The Dangerous World of Butterflies.

"An accessible, playful introduction to an ancient animals that continues to amaze us." - Michael Oates, video documentarian.

"An entertaining guide to a creature that's 445 million years old and still having sex on the beach." - Richard Conniff, author of The Species Seekers and Spineless Wonders.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part XI

As it turns out, horseshoe crabs have long been a primary bait source in capturing the American eel – a food source prized around the world.  While many of us may find the thought of consuming eels somewhat less satisfying than, say, a sizzling medium-rare filet mignon at the local steakhouse, an aromatic serving of Fettuccine Alfredo at our favorite Italian restaurant, or even a Whopper at Le Maison de Burger King, the consumption of eels is probably more prevalent than you might care to imagine.  While not a dish traditionally found in Western cuisine, eels are quite popular in many Oriental cultures, as well as throughout Europe, because of their numerous nutritional benefits, specifically:

§ Eels are high in Vitamins A, B1, B2, B12, D and E.

§ The consumption of eel “meat” decreases cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of developing arthritis.

§ Eels promote good eyesight, normal brain development, and nervous system function.

§ Eating eels reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowers triglyceride levels.

§ Eel is believed by the Japanese to be a culinary cure for lethargy. Many believe it helps people regain stamina sapped by heat or other causes.

§ Eating eel has been shown in certain studies to significantly reduce the chances of the development of type 2 diabetes among certain groups.

§ Incidentally, a fillet of eel (7.2 ounces) has about 375 calories.

          Most of the eels harvested along the eastern seaboard of the United States have been used to supply a burgeoning international market – primarily in Europe and Asia.  There is also a small, but sufficient market in North America, primarily directed at immigrants from other countries.  The 2005 Census of Aquaculture reports that three eel farms, one each in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are in operation.  Fishermen have often reported that horseshoe crabs are, far and away, the best bait to use to pot eel.
            But, we digress.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part X

From the 1800s through to the end of the 1900s the harvesting of horseshoe crabs from Delaware Bay was a thriving and substantial industry.  Jobs were created (smelly, stinky jobs, but jobs nonetheless) and fertilizer barons got wealthy.  This century-long industry encircled the Delaware Bay and was as much a part of the culture as were horse-drawn carriages and hoop skirts or Model-T cars and pocket watches.  But, as you saw in the chart above, the populations of horseshoe crabs began to decline across the Bay.  As the fertilizer industry waned, the population of horseshoe crabs slowly began to rebound.  More crabs were seen spawning on more beaches.  It looked as if a recovery was in progress.  But, before that recovery could establish a new level of abundance in the Bay a new industry emerged – one equally dependent on an adequate supply of horseshoe crabs for its existence and survival.
          At this juncture in our story let’s take a little side road off the horseshoe crab highway and look at a development a little further out in the ocean.  It was during the latter years of the 20th century that ocean stocks of various types of fish were in decline.  This was due, in large measure, to overfishing.  Lower numbers of fish were being pulled from the ocean and smaller fish were being loaded into boats and sent to market.  As a result, rules, laws, and regulations were passed by various states and other official bodies to reduce the amount of fish taken from the ocean so that the stocks could replenish themselves.
          As a result of this new legislation, many fishermen and watermen found themselves in a bit of an economic quandary.  They desperately needed other seafood markets in order to sustain themselves and their families.  Amazingly, the markets were already in place – albeit on a very small level – the American eel and whelk (or conch) industries.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part IX

            A casual glance at the chart (in the previous posting) and you may notice two trends.  One, over a million horseshoe crabs per year for over a half century were harvested from Delaware Bay for use as fertilizer.  I’m no mathematician, but that seems like a lot of Limulus pulled from the waters of the Bay.  Or, we can look at it this way.  If we assume that a average adult horseshoe crab is approximately twelve inches wide and up to two feet in length (including its tail), then 1,000,000 horseshoe crabs (laid side by side and end to end) would spread out over an area of approximately 45.91 acres.  That’s roughly the size of 35.32 professional football fields, 95.35 Madison Square Gardens, or 851.42 average American homes (considerably larger than your local subdivision).  You must admit, that’s a lot of Limulus laying around and smelling up the place.
          Second, you’ll also note that there was a substantial decline in the number of horseshoe crabs harvested from the waters of the Delaware Bay from roughly the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century.  This was due to a combination of factors including the development of, and competition with, alternative fertilizer sources; the very pungent and malodorous smells that would emanate from the factories (and the lands surrounding those factories) as the result of dying, dead, or decaying horseshoe crab bodies; the encroachment of human populations (and the subsequent building of homes for that burgeoning human population) along this prime stretch of real estate, and a potential decline in the availability of Limulus in the Bay.  Also significant was the fact that it took more men, time, and gear to harvest the same amount of horseshoe crabs in the 1900s as it did in the 1800s.
          It also seems safe to assume that there was a significant decline in the need for horseshoe crabs as fertilizer.  However, there wasn’t necessarily a significant decline in the need for horseshoe crabs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


The publication date for Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor has now been set.  The book is scheduled for release on May 22, 2012.

More details will be forthcoming.
Thanks to all,
Tony Fredericks

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

From Out of the Past - Part VIII

          At this point you may be thinking that if there was sufficient reason to establish numerous factories for the processing of horseshoe crabs into fertilizer, then there must be sufficient quantities of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay to supply those factories.  There was.  However, trying to determine exact numbers for the harvested populations of horseshoe crabs over the years is, as best, a tricky proposition.  That’s because record-keeping was not always an exact science – particularly before the turn of the century and also in the years since.  Additionally, there is the matter of who is doing the record-keeping.  Is it the local government, the state government, federal fishery agencies, the fertilizer factory people, commercial fisheries, or some other quasi-legislative entity willing, or able, to count thousands, indeed millions, of marine creatures?  Suffice it to say, there were many stakeholders in this particular commercial enterprise.
          The chart below represents some very rough estimates on the number of adult horseshoe crabs harvested in Delaware Bay over more than a century of record-keeping.  Please keep in mind that these numbers (averages actually) only represent a portion of the total adult population.  As Carl Shuster once stated, “While there is no sound estimate of the peak numbers of Limulus that existed in Delaware Bay area at some time in the past, as in Colonial days, the adult fraction of that population must have included several millions, perhaps tens of millions.”  Shuster points out that it would be “difficult to conceive how over 4 million could be harvested in one year in the 1870s” if the TOTAL population in Delaware Bay wasn’t several times that number.

# of Horseshoe Crabs Harvested