From the 1800s through to the end of the 1900s the harvesting of horseshoe crabs fromAt 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.
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.
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.