Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine wants the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ban horseshoe crab harvesting within 500 feet of town-owned lands out of concern the species is in danger of collapse.
"We're trying to protect our natural world as a town should," said Romaine during a Tuesday morning news conference at Mount Sinai Harbor Stewardship Center at Cedar Beach.
Romaine said some people have illegally harvested hundreds, and in extreme cases, thousands of horseshoe crabs in town waters. New York State permits the harvesting of 200 horseshoe crabs per day, officials said.
The DEC wasn't immediately available for comment.
Kevin McAllister, a biologist and founder of nonprofit Defend H20, a Sag Harbor-based environmental group, said a number of states on the East Coast allow horseshoe crabs to be sold for bait. He said those who fish are banned from harvesting horseshoe crabs in New Jersey.
"There's a greater demand here locally because they are exporting them," McAllister said.
Lawrence Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said he supports Romaine.
"Horseshoe crabs are severely threatened up and down the East Coast and we need to do everything we can to support them," he said.
Brookhaven Town has roughly 150 miles of shoreline, making it difficult to monitor illegal harvesting, especially at night, officials said. If the DEC agrees to the ban, Romaine said the town would help with enforcement.
Town officials said it takes a female horseshoe crab about nine years to reach sexual maturity and reproduce, and that they are one of the few species whose prime harvesting season coincides with their spawning activities.
Romaine said he would discuss the issue Wednesday when he meets with other Suffolk town supervisors. He said he expects the Brookhaven Town board to adopt a nonbinding resolution at its own meeting on Thursday.
Speaking of his proposed ban, Romaine said, "It will give horseshoe crabs a chance to survive. If we continue the way we are going, we're looking at a potential population collapse."
He said he is also asking the eight waterfront incorporated villages in Brookhaven Town to request a DEC ban as well. Those villages are Mastic Beach, Patchogue, Bellport, Poquott, Old Field, Belle Terre, Port Jefferson and Shoreham.
Bellport Mayor Ray Fell said he hadn't heard from Romaine or about his proposal as of Tuesday afternoon.
"I don't know anything about it," Fell said in a phone interview.
Town officials said the horseshoe crabs are in the midst of mating season, which normally lasts between May and June.
"One of our concerns has been poaching and there's a strong incentive to poach," said Anthony Graves, Brookhaven's chief environmental analysis.