The Whelk Fishery
Horseshoe crabs are used as bait to catch channel whelk (Busycotypus canaliculatus) and knobbed whelk (Busycon carica) in Maryland and the rest of the mid-Atlantic region.
Whelks are carnivorous marine snails that feed on mollusks (i.e., clams) found in the benthic environment.
To catch the whelk, the horseshoe crab is used as bait, divided into quarters, placed in a conch trap and placed offshore on the bottom. Whelks smell the horseshoe crab bait and enter the trap to feed. Periodically, the waterman will check each trap and harvest the whelks he finds.
This fishery uses both male and female crabs as bait though the female is preferred. The fishery for whelk grew out of increasing overseas demand for this marine snail. Starting in the 1990’s, expansion of the whelk fishery led to dramatic increases in horseshoe crab harvests. The whelk harvest goes primarily to regional processing plants or is directly exported to European food markets.
Channel Whelk Knobbed Whelk
or use the glossary.
Photo (top right):
Waterman showing two types of whelk pots.
Raising Horseshoe Crabs in the Classroom
- Stacy Epperson
Aquatic Resource Education Dept
Department of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave., E-2
Annapolis, MD 21401