Horseshoe crabs have survived largely unchanged for over 350 million years. Their ancestors saw the dinosaurs rise and fall; they outlasted ice ages, asteroid impacts, and climate changes. However, despite demonstrating a remarkable ability to survive such adversity, the existence of the horseshoe crab is now threatened by human activities. Since the early 1990s, horseshoe crabs along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States have been in increasing demand by both the biomedical and commercial fishing industries. While horseshoe crabs were once abundant along the seaboard, overuse of the horseshoe crab resource by these industries has caused a significant decline in their population. Biomedical companies refine horseshoe crab blood to produce a clotting agent that facilitates the easy detection of toxins in injectable drugs and medical implants before they are sold to the public. At the same time, commercial fishermen harvest horseshoe crabs to bait their eel pots and whelk traps. It is not only human interests, however, that depend on the continuing abundance of horseshoe crab populations. Migratory birds, such as the Red Knot, rely on horseshoe crab eggs as nourishment, enabling them to complete their long migrations to arctic breeding grounds. Due to these intertwined and varied uses, the decline of the horseshoe crab population has spurred interest from a diverse range of people, including birders, environmentalists, commercial fishermen, ecotourists, biomedical companies, coastal residents, and local business owners. Over the past two decades, these competing interests have resulted in a battle that will determine the future of the horseshoe crab species. Conservation efforts have faced additional challenges because of the horseshoe crab’s long maturation time, its ease of harvesting, and the difficulties in determining its population size. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) developed a fishery management plan for the horseshoe crab resource in the late 1990s, which it has amended multiple times since then. Although the plan has been moderately successful in stopping the rapid decline of the species, more must be done at both state and federal levels to restore the horseshoe crab population to a healthy size and preserve the resource for future generations. In Part II, this Comment will explore the history and biology of the horseshoe crab, including its current uses by the biomedical and fishing industries. Part III of this Comment will examine the various state and federal regulatory attempts at conservation. Part IV will examine the effectiveness of governmental conservation efforts to date. Finally, Part V will explore future possibilities and previously overlooked solutions to horseshoe crab conservation issues.
Sebastian B. Okun,
Mating In The Moonlight: The Battle To Save The American Horseshoe Crab,
Ocean & Coastal L.J.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/oclj/vol18/iss1/14