Endangered species listing sought for horseshoe crabs

By nationalfisherman.com.

A petition filed Feb. 12 with NOAA Fisheries seeks federal Endangered Species Act protection for the American horseshoe crab, a long-ubiquitous species whose populations have  “crashed in recent decades because of overharvesting and habitat loss,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center and 22 other environmental groups from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico states want regulators to restrict horseshoe crab harvests for commercial whelk and eel fisheries, and for crab blood used by biomedical companies.

“We’re wiping out one of the world’s oldest and toughest creatures,” said Will Harlan, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These living fossils urgently need Endangered Species Act protection. Horseshoe crabs have saved countless human lives, and now we should return the favor.”

Horseshoe crabs come ashore in spring along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, laying their eggs in massive beach spawning events. One of the largest gatherings happens on Delaware Bay beaches, where the concentrations of crabs eggs attract migrating shorebirds including red knots.

But “horseshoe crab populations have declined by two-thirds in the Delaware Bay, their largest population stronghold,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Early alarms over declining crab and shorebird numbers led New Jersey officials to first restrict commercial crab harvests in the late 1990s.

The red knot was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2015, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited the horseshoe crab harvest as one of the contributing factors to the red knot’s decline.

More recently environmental groups have been at loggerheads with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, pressing the interstate group to tighten limits on the commercial bait and biomedical harvests. The blue blood of horseshoe crabs is used to detect toxins in drugs and medical devices.

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