The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Tuesday, 29 August 2023 21:50

SELC settlement protects blue-blood horseshoe crabs and their avian dependents

Red Knot Red Knot.  Creative Commons Mark BY-SA 4.0  Chuck Homler 

CHARLESTON — A landmark settlement prohibits horseshoe crab collection on the beaches of more than 30 islands along the South Carolina coast that are established feeding sites for rufa red knots during their annual migration — as well as any harvesting in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge — for at least five years.

Every spring, red knots time their 9,300-mile migration from South America to the Canadian Arctic perfectly so they stop on the same beaches of South Carolina at the exact moment horseshoe crabs begin to spawn.

These protein-rich crab eggs are critical for red knots, providing the fuel they need to complete their transpolar journey. This delicate relationship between horseshoe crabs and red knots has developed over millions of years.

This intricate natural balance has been disrupted by the biomedical industry, further impacting this mighty little shorebird that has experienced a 75 percent decline in population since 1980.

Pharmaceutical companies collect the horseshoe crabs from South Carolina beaches during spawning and drain their blue blood for use in medical research and testing. The harvesting of this key red knot food source denies the birds access to the eggs and threatens their survival.

In 2021, more than 700,000 crabs were bled in the U.S. alone, even though a synthetic alternative exists and is widely used in other countries.

The settlement provides for GPS tracking and court-monitoring of the harvest for the next 5 years and requires additional permitting conditions that enhance protection of horseshoe crabs during the collection process. The settlement also provides the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources with additional data from fishermen on the health of the crab population.

This legal win sets into motion a key solution to help restore the delicate relationship between the threatened rufa red knot and the horseshoe crab in South Carolina.

— Southern Environmental Law Center

Horseshoe crab eggs are vital for migrating red knots.  Creative Commons Mark BY copy  Breese Greg, USFWS via Pixnio