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