Horseshoe crabs are vanishing in Connecticut. A new law aims to bring them back

Horseshoe crabs are disappearing from Long Island Sound at an alarming rate – with major environmental implications. A new state law will make harvesting them illegal in most cases.

John Craven

Aug 9, 2023, 9:30 PM

Updated 349 days ago

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Horseshoe crabs are disappearing from Long Island Sound at an alarming rate – with major environmental implications. A new state law will make harvesting them illegal in most cases.
“CAN THEY SURVIVE US?”
Horseshoe crabs aren’t pretty to look at, but they’re a vital part of our ecosystem – and their numbers are dropping so fast, they're almost extinct.
Jo-Marie Kasinak has spent years researching the ancient animals, as head of Sacred Heart University’s Project Limulus.
“Horseshoe crabs have been around for over 450 million years,” she said. “They've made it through all the other mass extinction events. Now, the question is, can they survive us?”
So why should you care about horseshoe crabs? If they disappear, Kasinak said endangered shore birds could follow. Plus, horseshoe crabs are actually vital to testing vaccines.
“Their blood has an amazing property, where it clumps on contact when it is exposed to bacterial endotoxins,” she said.
HARVESTING BAN
To get the numbers back up, Gov. Ned Lamont ceremonially signed a new harvesting ban on Wednesday at Stratford’s Short Beach, where collecting the animals is already illegal.
“What’s going on could potentially render them extinct,” said Lamont.
Despite horseshoe crabs’ medical value, most fishermen simply chop them up to catch eels and whelk.
“There are other protein sources, for lack of a better term, that can be used as bait,” said state Rep. Joe Gresko (D-Stratford), who pushed for the ban for six years.
This year, the bill passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly. The ban goes into effect on Oct. 1.
TURNING THE TIDE
The state’s efforts to turn the tide are already paying off.
After the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection limited how many horseshoe crabs fishermen could capture, the agency reported a 90% drop in harvests. Despite that, approximately 2,000 horseshoe crabs were taken in 2022, according to DEEP.
Once the ban goes into effect, DEEP said fines will be $25 per horseshoe crab. The agency said it has 63 officers to enforce the law, but Connecticut watermen can simply buy crabs in New York state, where harvesting remains legal.
New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina have also banned harvesting.
“POINT OF NO RETURN”?
In the last few years, Project Limulus and volunteers from the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk have tracked horseshoe crabs, with hopes of better understanding why they're vanishing.
“I don't think we're at the point of no return yet for the horseshoe crabs in Connecticut,” said Kasinak. “I do think this ban is a great first step forward in bringing them back.”


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