By J. David Goodman
A police helicopter thundered over a darkened Jamaica Bay in fast pursuit of a boat with no lights and a load of ill-gotten quarry.
As the craft ducked and dodged across the water, the airborne officers used night vision goggles to follow its spectral path.
The 30-minute pursuit on Monday night ended at a dock in Sheepshead Bay, where, the police said, two men tried to unload their haul: 200 horseshoe crabs.
“They tried to lose us,” Officer Chris Maher, who was in the helicopter, said, but officers and federal police officials intercepted the men on land.
What began as a routine flight by officers from the New York Police Department’s aviation unit on Monday night ended with federal criminal charges that the two men in the boat had illegally taken the animals, which can be sold as bait for up to $5 each.
Each spring, in May and June, horseshoe crabs crawl onto beaches up and down the East Coast to lay their eggs. Huge groupings of the sharp-edged arthropods attract shore birds that feed on the eggs — as well as people motivated by profit to take the whole animal.
The poachers have become a problem in New York in recent years, said Marin Hawk, who deals with the management of horseshoe crabs at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Since New Jersey instated a moratorium on taking the animals in 2008, she said, demand has increased in other states where they can be taken, but only inside of strict quotas and with proper licenses. Such licenses were not found on the men in Jamaica Bay, the authorities said. More....