Two kids running in the snow. We all need nature—and nature needs you. Together, we can protect the wildlife and wild lands of Massachusetts for generations to come. Make a tax-deductible donation today.
Two kids running in the snow. We all need nature—and nature needs you. Together, we can protect the wildlife and wild lands of Massachusetts for generations to come. Make a tax-deductible donation today.
Horseshoe crab leaving a trail on wet sand
© Karen Sharman

A Campaign to Restore Horseshoe Crabs

Since before the ages of dinosaurs, horseshoe crabs have lived in shallow coastal waters across the globe. These prehistoric creatures are among the world’s most resilient species, and today live along the East and Gulf Coasts of North America and across Asia. Their nutritious eggs provide a vital food source for thousands of migratory shorebirds, including the federally threatened Red Knot.

Unfortunately, overfishing and climate change have severely depleted horseshoe crab populations in Massachusetts. 

Regulations to Protect Horseshoe Crabs

Other states like Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Jersey have acted recently to protect and restore horseshoe crab populations on their shores, including strict regulations to protect crabs during their critical breeding and egg-laying, or spawning, period. But Massachusetts still permits harvesting during spawning season. To make matters worse, 140,000 of these crabs are used annually as bait for whelk—a type of shellfish classified as overfished in Massachusetts.  

Ways to Speak Up for Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crab on beach
Horseshoe Crab

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has proposed new regulations that would ban the harvest of horseshoe crabs during their breeding and egg-laying season. These crucial protections could start horseshoe crab populations on the road to recovery. 

To go into action, these protections must be approved by the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (DMF), an appointed board that votes on commercial fishing rules in Massachusetts. The DMF is collecting public input on their proposed regulations, which they’ll turn over to the MFAC before they vote. A huge show of public support could go a long way towards convincing the MFAC to approve these protections. 

Submit Public Comments

The Division of Marine Fisheries has opened a public comment period until March 8, and will be passing on all comments to the MFAC. We need you to weigh in today. 

Take Action

How Mass Audubon Helps Horseshoe Crabs

Advocacy

In 2023, Mass Audubon called on the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to tighten restrictions on the horseshoe crab bait harvest, including a ban on fishing during the spring spawning season. Despite the over 1,300 comments that wildlife advocates submitted in favor of these restrictions, the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC), an appointed board that votes on commercial fishing rules, refused to support the proposed regulations to protect spawning horseshoe crabs. 

In response to the DMF's 2024 proposal to ban harvest during spawning, Mass Audubon launched a new campaign to gather public support for these protections. This should be only a first step—DMF should establish goals to restore breeding populations on beaches across the state and phase out the harvest of horseshoe crabs for bait.  

Conservation Science

Mass Audubon has been conducting long-term surveys of spawning horseshoe crabs on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard since 2001 in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island, the National Park Service, the MA Division of Marine Fisheries, and several other organizations and institutions. Learn more about this work