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Horseshoe Crab on Beach

Mass Audubon Celebrates Approval of New Horseshoe Crab Protections

Press Release
March 19, 2024

The state Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC) has approved vital protections for horseshoe crabs that will help ensure the longevity of this vulnerable, 400-million-year-old species.

The MFAC, following endorsements by scientists from the state Department of Marine Fisheries and thousands of comments spearheaded by a grassroots campaign led by Mass Audubon, approved protections of horseshoe crabs during spawning, which is when they are at their most vulnerable. Horseshoe crabs pre-date the dinosaurs, but their populations have been depleted for decades due to harvest for bait (they are used to catch whelk, a species of sea snail that itself is classified as depleted) and biomedical manufacturing (a chemical derived from horseshoe crab blood used to test injectable drugs and medical devices).

The Commission failed to approve similar protections last year but took up the issue again at the urging of Mass Audubon, other advocates, and state fish and wildlife agencies.

“We’re ecstatic that the Commission did the right thing and enacted these common-sense regulations,” said David O’Neill, President of Mass Audubon. “Protecting horseshoe crabs during spawning season is incredibly important to getting this keystone species back to historic population levels that are critical to the health of coastal ecosystems, including the migratory birds that rely on them.”

Every other East Coast state that manages the horseshoe crab population had strengthened protections for this species in recent years, which means Massachusetts had been lagging behind other states including New Jersey, Delaware, and South Carolina. The protections are vital because depleted horseshoe crab populations leave declining and threatened migratory birds, notably Red Knots, unable to find sufficient horseshoe crab eggs to fuel their intercontinental migrations.

Dozens of Mass Audubon members turned out to speak at two public forums to support these measures, and thousands more submitted comments to the MFAC about the importance of adopting these protections.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming support of our members who cared enough to write to the Commission and show up in person to defend a species that needs our advocacy,” O’Neill said. “We also want to thank DMF who proposed these protective measures that balance the survival of a vulnerable species with fishing and biomedical services.  We look forward to continuing to work with the state to carefully monitor this species and take additional measures to restore the populations and its keystone role in coastal ecosystems.”

About Mass Audubon

Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 160,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at massaudubon.org.

Media Contact:

Michael P. O'Connor

Birds & Wildlife
Policy & Advocacy
horseshoe crabs