Brookhaven Town officials plan to ask state environmental officials to ban harvesting of horseshoe crabs at town beaches and Setauket Harbor.
The town board voted 7-0 Thursday to submit a request to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Town officials and others who support the ban, including environmentalists and marine scientists, said the measure is needed to protect the prehistoric creatures from overharvesting.
"You have the opportunity . . . to save a species," Elaine Maas, a member of the St. James-based Four Harbors chapter of the National Audubon Society, told board members before the vote. "How many of us have that opportunity?"
Town officials have said horseshoe crabs are especially vulnerable when they move into shallow waters during their spawning season in May and June. The crabs are used in biomedical testing, as bait for fishermen, and birds use horseshoe crab eggs as a food source.
Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine admitted the chances the state would approve the ban were relatively slim. "DEC could look at this and throw it out, and in all likelihood they may," he said.
Councilwoman Valerie Cartright said the vote was "very difficult."
"On the one hand, you want to support local business," she said. "On the other hand, you want to be good stewards of the environment."
Opponents, including local baymen, cast doubt on assertions that horseshoe crabs are in danger of disappearing. They said recent studies have found horseshoe crab populations stable.
"The horseshoe crabs are doing fine," said bayman John German, of Brookhaven hamlet. "The only thing that's really threatened in the Town of Brookhaven is commercial fishermen."
In a statement released Friday, DEC spokesman Jomo A. Miller said the agency "is focusing on restricting harvest in important breeding areas based upon monitoring data and plans to add new sites as data supports."
Miller said DEC studies have found horseshoe crab populations on Long Island are "relatively steady," but some areas "have shown some downward trends."
Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-East Setauket) spoke in favor of the proposed ban. Englebright and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have sponsored state legislation requiring the DEC to consider factors such as the horseshoe crabs' mating season while evaluating plans to regulate how many of the animals may be caught. The bills passed in the Assembly and Senate and are awaiting the signature of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
"A park is usually a place where animals have an opportunity to have refuge," Englebright told board members.
Romaine said he would write Cuomo recommending he sign Englebright and LaValle's bill.