Horseshoe crabs during high tide in Shinnecock Bay in Southampton...

Horseshoe crabs during high tide in Shinnecock Bay in Southampton on June 5, 2023.  Credit: Randee Daddona

ALBANY — New York State is coming to the aid of Long Island’s horseshoe crabs, an ancient and alien-looking species that has unique biomedical properties in its bright blue blood that played a role in combating COVID-19.

Last week, the State Legislature agreed to ban the taking of American horseshoe crabs as bait for commercial fishing and for biomedical use. In New York, horseshoe crabs are used for bait to catch conch and eels. But with restrictions already in place in New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, the sponsors of New York’s measure said they feared harvesting for biomedical use would soon move to New York waters along with more bait fishing.

“That’s very good news,” said John Tanacredi, a professor of environmental sciences at Molloy University in Rockville Centre. Tanacredi is also the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring at the university’s field station in West Sayville and an authority on horseshoe crabs.

“These animals are harvested for bait long before they get to a breeding beach,” Tanacredi told Newsday on Monday.

The species found along the Atlantic coast is considered by international conservation groups to be “vulnerable to extinction.”

Horseshoe crabs have a long, narrow tail jutting out from under a large, two-piece brown shell that has spikes to the rear. Researchers estimate that horseshoe crabs have been around for more than 400 million years, well before the dinosaurs, and survived five of Earth’s “extinction events.” 

“It’s not exactly cuddly, but it is fascinating,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan). “It is a wonder.”

Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), the bill’s co-sponsor, said the state must protect a threatened species that is so essential to shore birds and the coastal ecosystem.

“We are trying to get ahead of the near-extinction of this remarkable creature that existed since dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” Glick said. Horseshoe crabs “should not be used so carelessly.”

The biomedical use of horseshoe crab blood is widespread.

Within the crab, the blood identifies and clots around toxins as a survival tool. In laboratories since the 1970s, the blood has been used to show if there are toxins or bacteria in vaccines before they are used on people.

The blood is also used to find bacteria in hospitals and on surgical instruments, including bacteria that can lead to lethal sepsis.

The blood was considered critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic to speed the approval of safe vaccines.

After much of horseshoe crab’s blood is drained, the crabs are returned to the water, where some survive.

In New York, the state has issued permits for as many as 150,000 horseshoe crabs a year to be taken for bait from Brooklyn to Montauk in Long Island Sound and the Great South Bay. No permits have been requested in recent years for biomedical use.

The bill states, however, that “without the suspension of horseshoe crab fishing, we will have other fishermen come to New York and deplete our stock of horseshoe crabs.” The measure awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature to make it law, or her veto.

The measure still allows horseshoe crabs to be taken for “scientific or education purposes,” such as nonprofit zoos and aquariums.

Many Republicans opposed the bill, which was approved Friday in mostly party-line votes.

Assemb. Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said she feared the ban would put some commercial fishermen on Long Island out of business because horseshoe crabs are the best bait for conk and eel.

In the state Senate, Sen. Steven Rhoads (R-North Bellmore) argued the bill shouldn’t ban the taking of the crabs for its important biomedical use.

But Glick and Hoylman-Sigal said horseshoe crabs are also a “keystone species” that’s particularly important to an ecosystem and wildlife, including a 3.5-ounce bird called the Red Knot. The bird, also in decline, depends on horseshoe crab eggs for high-energy food on its annual migration between South America and the Arctic.

That argument in the state Senate debate prompted Rhoads to say: “Are we placing the safety of the Red Knot above actual people?”

Hoylman-Sigel, however, said such an important species as the horseshoe crab shouldn’t be lost for bait.

“We are literally chopping up a species to catch other fish, which sounds, frankly, like a poor approach,” said Hoylman-Sigal.

ALBANY — New York State is coming to the aid of Long Island’s horseshoe crabs, an ancient and alien-looking species that has unique biomedical properties in its bright blue blood that played a role in combating COVID-19.

Last week, the State Legislature agreed to ban the taking of American horseshoe crabs as bait for commercial fishing and for biomedical use. In New York, horseshoe crabs are used for bait to catch conch and eels. But with restrictions already in place in New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, the sponsors of New York’s measure said they feared harvesting for biomedical use would soon move to New York waters along with more bait fishing.

“That’s very good news,” said John Tanacredi, a professor of environmental sciences at Molloy University in Rockville Centre. Tanacredi is also the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring at the university’s field station in West Sayville and an authority on horseshoe crabs.

“These animals are harvested for bait long before they get to a breeding beach,” Tanacredi told Newsday on Monday.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The State Legislature has agreed to ban the taking of American horseshoe crabs as bait for commercial fishing and for biomedical use.
  • With restrictions in place in New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, the sponsors of New York’s measure said they feared harvesting for biomedical use would soon move to New York waters along with more bait fishing.
  • The species found along the Atlantic coast is considered by international conservation groups to be “vulnerable to extinction.”

The species found along the Atlantic coast is considered by international conservation groups to be “vulnerable to extinction.”

Horseshoe crabs have a long, narrow tail jutting out from under a large, two-piece brown shell that has spikes to the rear. Researchers estimate that horseshoe crabs have been around for more than 400 million years, well before the dinosaurs, and survived five of Earth’s “extinction events.” 

“It’s not exactly cuddly, but it is fascinating,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan). “It is a wonder.”

Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), the bill’s co-sponsor, said the state must protect a threatened species that is so essential to shore birds and the coastal ecosystem.

“We are trying to get ahead of the near-extinction of this remarkable creature that existed since dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” Glick said. Horseshoe crabs “should not be used so carelessly.”

The biomedical use of horseshoe crab blood is widespread.

Within the crab, the blood identifies and clots around toxins as a survival tool. In laboratories since the 1970s, the blood has been used to show if there are toxins or bacteria in vaccines before they are used on people.

The blood is also used to find bacteria in hospitals and on surgical instruments, including bacteria that can lead to lethal sepsis.

The blood was considered critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic to speed the approval of safe vaccines.

After much of horseshoe crab’s blood is drained, the crabs are returned to the water, where some survive.

In New York, the state has issued permits for as many as 150,000 horseshoe crabs a year to be taken for bait from Brooklyn to Montauk in Long Island Sound and the Great South Bay. No permits have been requested in recent years for biomedical use.

The bill states, however, that “without the suspension of horseshoe crab fishing, we will have other fishermen come to New York and deplete our stock of horseshoe crabs.” The measure awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature to make it law, or her veto.

The measure still allows horseshoe crabs to be taken for “scientific or education purposes,” such as nonprofit zoos and aquariums.

Many Republicans opposed the bill, which was approved Friday in mostly party-line votes.

Assemb. Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said she feared the ban would put some commercial fishermen on Long Island out of business because horseshoe crabs are the best bait for conk and eel.

In the state Senate, Sen. Steven Rhoads (R-North Bellmore) argued the bill shouldn’t ban the taking of the crabs for its important biomedical use.

But Glick and Hoylman-Sigal said horseshoe crabs are also a “keystone species” that’s particularly important to an ecosystem and wildlife, including a 3.5-ounce bird called the Red Knot. The bird, also in decline, depends on horseshoe crab eggs for high-energy food on its annual migration between South America and the Arctic.

That argument in the state Senate debate prompted Rhoads to say: “Are we placing the safety of the Red Knot above actual people?”

Hoylman-Sigel, however, said such an important species as the horseshoe crab shouldn’t be lost for bait.

“We are literally chopping up a species to catch other fish, which sounds, frankly, like a poor approach,” said Hoylman-Sigal.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

'Why am I giving up my Friday night to listen to this?' A Newsday analysis shows the number of referees and umpires has declined 25.2% in Nassau and 18.1% in Suffolk since 2011-12. Officials and administrators say the main reason is spectator behavior. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports.

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