Scientists today released a report announcing that a decrease of at least 5,000 red knots was observed at key wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego, Chile from the previous year. Scientists reported population counts of wintering knots in other locations declined as well. The estimated current total population for the migratory shorebird is now unlikely to be more than 25,000.
The decline in red knot numbers elevates the importance of implementing stronger protections at Delaware Bay, a key U.S. stopover where migrating knots depend on an abundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs to fuel the final leg of their migration to breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.
The scientists’ report concludes that despite horseshoe crab harvest restrictions put in place by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission over the past decade “there is still no evidence of recovery of the horseshoe crab population, either in numbers of spawning females or in all sub-adult age groups including juveniles.” Restrictions to date have only been enough to stop the population from declining further, are insufficient to recover the population and will continue to be insufficient unless the harvest is greatly reduced.
“Unless action is taken now, red knots may be on an irreversible slide to extinction.”
Conservation groups are calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to take immediate steps to list the red knot under the Endangered Species Act. A listing would initiate the development of a recovery plan and require federal agencies whose actions affect red knots to consult with the FWS. A listing would also require the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, housed under the National Marine Fisheries Service, to consult with the FWS on the regulations it establishes for the horseshoe crab fishery.
Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife said, “This year’s huge decline in wintering red knots provides clear evidence that the status quo is not working. Unless action is taken now, red knots may be on an irreversible slide to extinction. The U.S. has a responsibility to the global community to protect this migratory shorebird, which stops along our coast to rest and feed while making one of the longest migrations in nature, from the tip of South America to the Arctic.”