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Brookhaven wants a state ban on harvesting of horseshoe crabs in some town waters

A baby horseshoe crab is held out of

A baby horseshoe crab is held out of a tank at the New York State Department of Environmental Convservation as Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks with other officials seeking a ban on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs within 500 feet of all Town of Brookhaven parks in Mt. Sinai, Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Credit: David L. Pokress / David L. Pokress

Brookhaven officials may vote Thursday to seek a state ban on harvesting horseshoe crabs in most town waters.

The town's request for the ban has been modified since Supervisor Edward P. Romaine first proposed it in May. The town board delayed a vote then after some baymen protested.

The resolution would ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to prohibit horseshoe crab harvests on Brookhaven beaches and waters. The prehistoric creatures are especially vulnerable to harvesting in May and June, when they move into shallow water to spawn.

Town officials and other supporters of the ban say horseshoe crabs must be protected from overharvesting. Opponents have said the ban would hurt fishermen who catch and sell the arthropods, which are commonly used for bait.

Brookhaven officials have altered the original resolution by exempting waters at the ends of town roads from areas where harvesting would be prohibited. Romaine said Monday trying to stop people from harvesting horseshoe crabs in water accessible from the ends of roads would be "too difficult and create an additional burden."

Nancy Solomon, a folklorist who opposes the ban because of its possible impact on the shellfishing industry, said she was pleased to hear of that exemption. Enforcing the ban on roads "would have made it virtually impossible for anybody to access the beach, including the fishermen," said Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, a Port Washington nonprofit.

She said the ban is unnecessary because most baymen don't catch horseshoe crabs along beaches. "They are usually offshore by several hundred feet," Solomon said.

State lawmakers passed legislation last month setting additional guidelines for state regulation of horseshoe crab harvests. State and federal laws limit the amount of horseshoe crabs that may be caught.

The state legislation, sponsored by Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), would require the DEC to consider factors such as the horseshoe crabs' mating season while regulating harvests. The bill, if signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, would expire in December 2017.

"We need to ensure the survival of the species that has endured for hundreds of years," LaValle said in a statement.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the legislation is "under review."

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