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Brookhaven sees state legislation as way to save horseshoe crabs

A baby horseshoe crab at the New York

A baby horseshoe crab at the New York State Department of Environmental Convservation. Credit: David L. Pokress

Brookhaven officials said state legislation that would extend state regulatory authority over horseshoe crabs may help them save the prehistoric creatures from overharvesting.

A pair of bills passed last month by the state Senate and Assembly would require state environmental officials to cooperate with counties, towns and villages that want to ban catching horseshoe crabs on municipal properties. The bills await Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.

The state regulates horseshoe crab harvesting by imposing daily, seasonal and annual quotas on commercial fishermen. The annual quota this year is 150,000 horseshoe crabs, which has been unchanged since the quota program began in 2009.

Horseshoe crab harvesting was closed on June 27.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the legislation would help the town crack down on overharvesting. He has previously called for banning horseshoe crab harvests at town beaches because he believes some fishermen exceed the state quotas.

“This is a species that is declining,” Romaine said. “This would give them an opportunity as a species to survive.”

Horseshoe crabs technically are not crabs — they’re more closely related to arthropods, such as spiders. The species has existed for about 450 million years, scientists have said.

The crabs are used in biomedical testing, and as bait for fishermen, and birds use horseshoe crab eggs as a food source. Brookhaven officials have said horseshoe crabs are especially vulnerable when they move into shallow waters during their spawning season in May and June.

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials have said the crab populations on Long Island are relatively steady, but have declined in some areas.

The state bills, proposed by Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), would extend the DEC’s regulatory authority over horseshoe crabs for one year and require the agency to “cooperate with any town, village or county that requests any municipal property be subject to a harvest closure.”

Both measures passed last month. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

LaValle said in a statement that horseshoe crabs “are an important component of the ecosystem. . . . It is critically important that the DEC continue monitoring this species.”

Commercial fishermen and their advocates have questioned assertions that horseshoe crab populations are declining in Long Island waters. Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, which supports fishermen, said the state bills are not needed because harvesting already is limited at Brookhaven Town beaches.

“It was already banned at most of the places that were on the list,” she said.

Romaine said the state legislation would not keep fishermen from making a living.

“There are plenty of places to harvest,” he said. “You don’t have to come on town property.”

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