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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.  

Speaking Up for Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crab on beach
Horseshoe Crab

In January 2024, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) 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 had to be approved by the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (DMF), an appointed board that votes on commercial fishing rules in Massachusetts. Mass Audubon asked our supporters to help advocate for horseshoe crab protections, and you delivered. Over 2,600 Mass Audubon supporters submitted written public comments and over 70 attended in-person public hearings. 

On March 19, the MFAC heard our voices and voted overwhelmingly to approve the proposed protections. This ban on harvesting during the spawning season will be an important step towards restoring horseshoe crab populations to health.

How Mass Audubon Helps Horseshoe Crabs


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. While these protections passed, they should only be a first step—DMF should ultimately 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

Become a Horseshoe Crab Advocate

Join us and our thousands of existing supporters, and we’ll keep you informed on how to submit your support for these important reforms.

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