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Horseshoe crabs spawn at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Toby Stime

By Mallie Jane Kim

New York’s horseshoe crabs may see new and permanent protections, if a bill in Albany is successful — something local environmental groups are rooting for.

“Horseshoe crabs were once abundant in our local harbors and lined the shores of Port Jefferson and Setauket Harbors during the May breeding season,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force. “They are a big deal with harbor lovers.”

Horseshoe crabs, which are more closely related to arachnids like spiders and scorpions than crustaceans, are considered “living fossils” because they’ve existed, unchanged, for an estimated 450 million years, surviving through multiple mass extinctions. 

But the species has faced a steady decline in the past few decades due to harvesting and habitat loss, which in turn affects species of birds that rely on horseshoe crab eggs as mid-migration sustenance. The crabs are commercially harvested for use as bait by eel and conch fishing operations, and their blue blood is used in biomedical research and for improving vaccine safety.

The new bill, introduced by Assemblymember Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), would amend state law to prohibit the taking of horseshoe crabs for commercial or biomedical purposes from state waters, but would allow for approved scientific or educational uses, like for zoos or aquariums.

The Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation approved the bill on May 14, and it now sits with the codes committee. If the bill passes there, it would face a vote by the whole Assembly. 

On May 21, state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan) introduced a “same as” bill in the state Senate, and because it counts as a revamped version of a previous horseshoe crab bill that already passed through relevant committees, this bill is ready for a floor vote.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, warned that because Connecticut and Massachusetts recently enacted stronger protections for horseshoe crabs and neighboring states are also eying changes, New York’s population could be at greater risk.

“We’re very concerned that’s going to draw more eyes on New York’s horseshoe crab population,” she said.

According to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, a permit holder can currently harvest up to 200 horseshoe crabs per day in New York. The state has an annual harvest limit of 150,000 each year.

A report by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission indicated coastwide harvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait peaked in the 1990s at about 2.75 million crabs, but was down to about half a million in 2022, partly due to more efficient equipment that allows fishermen to use much less bait. 

Still, Esposito said harvesting horseshoe crabs to chop them up as bait is “archaic,” and said commercial fishing enterprises have been talking about finding alternative bait sources for decades. “This will incentivize finding alternative baits for fishermen to use to successfully catch conch and eel,” she said.

For Hoffman, stopping the “rapacious takings” that have lowered horseshoe crab populations is essential.

“We must do all we can to save them,” Hoffman said. “We can’t let them be hunted to extinction.” 

The Atlantic horseshoe crab. Public domain photo

From the shore, they can look like odd-shaped shadows with tails, moving in and out of the surf or approaching the shoreline.

Up close, they can have a collection of barnacles attached to their shells, particularly as they age.

Horseshoe crabs, who have been roaming the oceans for over 450 million years, have attracted the admiration of researchers and the dedication of volunteers around Long Island, who not only want to ensure they continue to survive, but also would like to know more about creatures that are more related to spiders and scorpions than to the crabs their names suggest.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is look at spawning in a more comprehensive way,” said Robert Cerrato, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “We’re trying to figure out if there are specific things that [horseshoe crabs] are responding to” when they come up on the beach to lay their eggs.

A closeup of two horseshoe crabs. Photo courtesy Matthew Sclafani

Horseshoe crabs have had a steady decline in their population over the last 20 years overall. In the last three to five years, however, not much has changed in the Long Island area, scientists explained.

The population is “still very similar to where it was,” said Matthew Sclafani, senior resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and assistant adjunct faculty member at SBU.

Scalafani and Cerrato have worked together for well over a decade and are hoping to address a wide range of questions related to these unusual creatures that have nine eyes and blue blood.

Apart from the fascination of scientists and volunteers, the horseshoe crab provides a critical food source for shore birds like the Red Knot, which depends on these eggs during their migration.

At the same time, horseshoe crabs and their blue blood provide a key ingredient in tests of pharmaceuticals. When exposed to endotoxins, horseshoe crab blood forms clots.

The use of horseshoe crab blood to test drugs does not occur in New York, however, as companies don’t catch these creatures in the Empire State for this specific test.

Cerrato and Scalafani explained that numerous towns have also limited or banned the harvesting of horseshoe crabs to maintain their local populations.

Areas around West Meadow Beach in Old Field, for example, are closed to hand harvesting, as is Jamaica Bay and Gateway National Recreation Area.

Such policies “theoretically will allow for more eggs on the beach to hatch and for shore birds dependent on them” to find food, Sclafani said. Such closures, including some during the last two weeks in May and the first two weeks in June during the peak spawn were “significant steps for conservation,” Sclafani added.

An aerial photograph taken by a drone during a horseshoe crab survey at Pike’s Beach, Westhampton. Photo by Rory MacNish/Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Ongoing questions

By labeling and tracking horseshoe crabs, these researchers and a team of volunteers hope to understand whether crabs, which are capable of reproducing when they are between 8 and 10 years old, return to the same sites each year to lay their eggs.

Cerrato and Scalafani are hoping to get satellite tags they can attach to adults, so that when they come out of the water to spawn, researchers know their location.

The researchers submitted a proposal to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to do a pilot study with these satellite tags.

Juvenile horseshoe crabs also present unknowns, as they have a different diet and migrate at a much lower rate.

“We started to look at” crabs that are 3 to 10 years old, said Cerrato. Moriches Bay is an “important habitat” for them.

Volunteer passion

Volunteers who help count the horseshoe crabs count these creatures often until well after midnight.

Frank Chin has been wandering beaches, counting crabs for 15 years. When he was young, Chin wanted to be a forest ranger.

“I realized that forest rangers don’t make that much money, so I went to school for engineering, got a degree and worked as an engineer,” he said.

Chin found himself at a Friends of Flax Pond meeting, where Scalafani asked for help from the community.

“I foolishly raised my hand and they made me a coordinator,” joked Chin, who counts horseshoe crabs with his wife Phyllis.

Every year presents something new to Chin.

This year, he has run into people who fish late at night. Chin said the fishermen, who have permits, are cordial, but that he’s concerned they might be scaring crabs away from their usual spawning spots.

In addition to counting the crabs, Chin, who is the director of the lab in the Physics Department at SBU, also tags them. He once caught a crab seven years after he initially tagged it.

Chin, who will count crabs in the rain but not in thunderstorms, appreciates the dedication of his fellow volunteers, who not only count the crabs but will pick up garbage and bottles along the beach.

Chin plans to continue to “do it as long as I can walk down the beach.” Some day, he “hopes someone else will take over.”

Volunteers can sign up to join the effort at nyhorseshoecrab.org.

By Patricia Paladines

West Meadow Beach is one of four locations in New York State where horseshoe crabs are protected from capture for the biomedical and bait fishing industries throughout the year. It is a beach where during full moons of May and June we can witness an annual event that has been occurring for thousands of years in this part of the world; the migration of horseshoe crabs from the depths of the Long Island Sound to mate and deposit eggs on the shore at high tide. The beach’s sand bars are literally where single males and females “hook-up.” 

Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) have roamed the seas for over 400 million years. Long Island’s north shore, having existed for just around 20,000 years, is a relatively new site for the romantic rendezvous. 

I’ve led walks for the Four Harbors Audubon Society at West Meadow Beach where we’ve counted hundreds of horseshoe crabs on the stretch of beach between the parking lot and the jetty on the southern end. On a recent solo walk, I came upon a fisherman who had reeled in a horseshoe crab. He was about to use a knife to tear the baited hook out of the horseshoe crab’s mouth. I stopped him and showed him how easy it was to remove the hook by hand. He said he had been told the crabs were dangerous and that the tail could hurt you. After informing him that was incorrect, I took the crab and placed it back in the water while letting him know these animals are protected on this beach. 

I may have come upon the scene just in time to save that horseshoe crab, but the beach was littered with the shells of other crabs that appeared to have been purposely killed. On the same walk I found a large female who had been smashed by a piercing object. A few weeks ago, a couple of friends found a horseshoe crab that appeared to have been burned. There is evidence of many overnight bonfires on the dunes, some very near the piping plover nest barricades. 

Dead horseshoe crabs were not the only bottom feeding sea creatures strewn along the beach. Sun dried sea robins and a few skates also littered the high tide line. 

It was late afternoon and the beach was filling up with fisher folks, both men and women. That meant there would be a lot of bait attracting bottom feeding animals, AKA scavengers, fish and crabs that stroll the sea floor feeding on whatever they can find. Fisherman’s bait is easy pickings, but not the safest, especially if you are not a species preferred on that fisherman’s plate. 

I spotted two fishermen who had just reeled in two sea robins. I went over to ask them what they were going to do with them. They told me they were going to throw them back, but then I noticed a live sea robin on the sand just behind them. I picked it up and threw it back in the water hoping they would do the same with the ones they had on their hooks. I continued my walk near the line of fisher people and found more live sea robins on the sand and threw them all back in the Sound. One woman told me the fish just wash up on the beach with the waves. No, that doesn’t happen. 

I came out for a walk to find peace in the natural beauty this beach offers Brookhaven residents; instead, what I found was upsetting. I talked to a few of the fishermen and learned that some are coming from Nassau County and Queens. Do these people have permits to fish on Brookhaven Town beaches? 

When granted a fishing permit, does the person receive educational material about our local sea creatures and respectful beach use etiquette? The beach is littered not only with dead animals, but also fishing-related garbage — hooks, lines, plastic bags advertising tackle. Educational material should be in various languages. I’m a native Spanish speaker so was able to speak to the Spanish and English-speaking fisher people in the language they were most comfortable with. My experience as an environmental educator on Long Island has informed me that there are speakers of many languages who enjoy catching their meals from our waters; Czech, Polish, and Chinese are some of the other languages I’m aware of. 

Education and patrolling are needed on our beaches. Additionally, West Meadow Beach should be closed to fishing during the horseshoe crab breeding season; allowing fishing during this time is counterproductive to efforts in place to protect a species whose numbers continue to decline along the Atlantic Coast. 

Patricia Paladines is an Adjunct Instructor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Co-President of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Photo from 4HAS
The Four Harbors Audubon Society hosts a horseshoe crab count at West Meadow Beach Trustees Road, Stony Brook on Saturday, June 5 from 8 to 9:30 a.m.
Join board member Patricia Paladines to count horseshoe crabs along the shore. Learn why these ancient creatures are important to people and other animals. A Town of Brookhaven parking sticker needed or pay at parking meters. Please bring mask or face covering.
Reservations are preferred. Please email Patricia Paladines at [email protected]m.

Photo from Pixabay

By Ken Taub

A formidable collection of naturalists, scientists, academics and Long Island nature organizations came together in a remote meeting to discuss the current status and future viability of the ancient horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) in our area.  The January 15, 2021 meeting, via Zoom, co-sponsored by Seatuck Environmental Organization and Sierra Club, Long Island group, was a continuation of the first meeting at Seatuck in February 2020.   The goal of an ongoing working group was curtailed by the Covid pandemic.  This January meeting represented the delayed, but no less dynamic, follow-up with 29 esteemed attendees.

The opening presentation was by naturalist John Turner and Dr. Matthew Sclafani of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) to discuss the alternative bait project, a cutting-edge endeavor to refine, test and distribute a synthetic bait alternative, so that local fishermen and baymen use this, rather than the horseshoe crabs, as bait for eel and whelk.  The project, in development for several years, was given new momentum, and funding, by a substantial, joint donation by Seatuck and Sierra Club.

Other presentations included proposed 2021 horseshoe stock management directives by the NY Dep’t. of Environmental Conservation (DEC); monitoring and tagging of these now vulnerable 350 million year old arthropods with a new app, to be used by research groups and “citizen scientists” alike; habitat protection; the increased use of mesh bait bags; and reduction of harvest quotas.

The group picked up a key topic from the 2020 meeting: increasing lunar closures, or moonlight moratoriums, on the taking of horseshoe crabs as bait during full and new moons in the late spring mating seasons.  Currently, there are four days in late May and early June where the DEC does not permit bait harvest.  The discussions explored when we might have more harvest moratorium days, or even a full moratorium as they have in other East coast states, since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2019, summarized the New York region as having a worsening picture after each annual assessment of area horseshoe crab stocks, which used to be plentiful on Long Island beaches and inlets. 

As Dr. Charles Bevington, outgoing Chair of the L.I. Sierra Club, stated in his opening remarks:  “I am not a scientist. I am an advocate for ecological biodiversity.  My present horseshoe crab advocacy is for their actual survival as a species.  I believe that the horseshoe crab lifecycle is in precipitous decline.”  On this troublesome evaluation there was general agreement.  Recent stock assessments by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission point to the fact that our area is at a critical juncture, which will require a multi-prong effort, including bait moratoriums, to reverse this worrisome downward trend for a unique, ecologically vital species.  Horseshoe crab eggs provide sustenance for migrating shore birds, while their special blood is used to test for dangerous endotoxins in medical procedures, chemotherapy and vaccinations, including the new Covid 19 vaccines.

Attendees included biologists, marine scientists, professors, and organization leaders from the DEC, Stony Brook University, Adelphi University, the Audubon Society, NYS South Shore Estuary Reserve, Save the Great South Bay, The Nature Conservancy and The Safina Center, Southampton Baymen’s Assn., a fishing fleet captain, as well as 14 representatives from Seatuck, L.I. Sierra Club and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Author Ken Taub is a member of the L.I. Sierra Club.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

The Brookhaven Town Board has officially backed Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push for a horseshoe crab harvesting ban at town parks and properties.

At a meeting on July 16, councilmembers unanimously supported a resolution that requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation close North and South Shore parks and underwater lands to horseshoe crab harvesting and recommends strategies to reduce the harvesting. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also spoke at the meeting and threw in his support for the effort, as it would help protect the crab population — which, according to some reports, has decreased.

“I support this resolution and encourage its passage and compliment the very fact that it has been initiated,” said Englebright, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, right, and a local fisherman, left, speak at a Brookhaven Town Board meeting. Photo by Erika Karp

In May, Romaine announced he would seek a horseshoe crab harvesting ban for areas within 500 feet of town-owned waterfront properties. Fishermen often use horseshoe crabs for bait, but the crabs are also used for medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and supplies.

Advocates for the ban have said the crabs, whose species is 450 million years old, play a vital role in the ecosystem, as birds like the red knot eat the crabs’ eggs.

Local parks covered within the town’s request include Port Jefferson Harbor; the western boundary of the Mount Sinai inlet; underwater lands and town-owned shoreline of Setauket Harbor; and Shoreham Beach.

The DEC already has bans in place at Mount Sinai Harbor and West Meadow Beach.

In addition, the town asked the DEC to consider mandating fishers to use bait bags and/or artificial bait; banning the harvesting of horseshoe crab females; and establishing full harvest bans several days before and after full moons in May and June — the crabs’ nesting season.

Those latter recommendations were not included in the original resolution, but were added after weeks of discussion on the issue.

Local baymen have said their livelihoods would be jeopardized by any further restrictions, and the seamen remained opposed to the resolution last Thursday. Many also disagreed with officials that the crab population was decreasing.

“If you were with us you would know the quantities are there,” Florence Sharkey, president of the Brookhaven Baymen’s Association, said at the meeting.

Sharkey added that alternative baits have been tried, but don’t work.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine holds a horseshoe crab as he calls on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite the testimony, the Town Board moved forward with resolution, which had been tabled for nearly two months. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) called the decision a difficult one.

During public comment, Englebright invited the fishers to speak before his committee, as the state is wrestling with the issue as well.

The assemblyman introduced legislation in March that would impose a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs and their eggs until 2021. While the bill wasn’t voted on in the last legislative session, a different bill, which outlines similar recommendations to the DEC regarding crab conservation and management, was approved.

Englebright said the law would be revisited in two years. He said he hoped the DEC would get better data on the crabs in the future as well.

While the state continues to grapple with the issue, Englebright noted the town’s requested ban is different, as it pertains to parkland.

“This is a park and public expectation is different than [at] the general shoreline,” he said. “A park is usually a place that animals have the opportunity to have refuge.”

Activists, politicians, volunteers taking closer look at declining population of Long Island’s ocean life

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for almost 500 million years, but their future is uncertain. Researchers like Matt Sclafani, a marine educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said he believes that the species is in an alarming decline.

“It’s a very important issue for a lot of reasons,” Sclafani said during a horseshoe crab monitoring session at West Meadow beach in Stony Brook on Monday night.

Horseshoe crabs are a valuable species to human life, Sclafani said. Their blue blood is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Fishermen use them as one of the most effective sources of bait that exists.

Sclafani called Delaware Bay the epicenter for horseshoe crab spawning activity, with Long Island coming in as a close second as one of the most important areas to the species on the East Coast, he said.

Sclafani and his team of volunteers take to the local shores when the tides are low, usually in the middle of the night, to count and tag horseshoe crabs that come up to the shore to spawn. On Monday, Sclafani was joined by Frank Chin, the regular site coordinator for West Meadow beach, along with Grace Scalzo, a volunteer, and Karen Papa and her sons — 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Jonah.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We get a lot of volunteers for this program,” Sclafani said. “That’s the part I think is really great, too. We get people involved in their backyards. There’s not a lot of marine life that you can get involved with and handle this directly — that comes right out onto the beach for you without a net or fishing pole.”

In all, the team tagged 55 horseshoe crabs over the course of the night, though that is nothing compared to the night on the South Shore when Sclafani said he and a team of about 35 volunteers tagged about 800 crabs. The process requires measurement, drilling a small hole into the shell, and then applying a round tag that has tracking information on it which is recorded.

“I think the entire population up and down the East Coast is in trouble,” Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said of the horseshoe crab population in an interview last week. “It’s in trouble for a variety of reasons including people overfishing the population, but also certain birds, including the red knot, are particularly prone to using them as a food source.”

Sclafani said the consequences could be dire, if the crabs are not saved.

“Their eggs are really important to the ecosystem,” Sclafani said. “A lot of animals feed on them, including migratory shore birds.”

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) divulged plans to urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to expand restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs in May, to the chagrin of fishermen. Those plans have since been tabled.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” Ron Bellucci Jr. of Sound Beach said in an interview last month.

Horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income, he said. Local fishermen have also questioned the validity of claims about the declining population.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

The idea that the species may not be declining is not an encouraging sign to Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and distinguished service professor at SoMAS, Stony Brook. He is also the president of Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy and the Friends of Flax Pond, two environmental advocacy groups.

“We know in nature that things go up and down, and up and down, but you have to look at long-term trends; 10 years, 20 years,” Bowman said in an interview last week. “I’ve worked with fishermen a lot. They have to make a living, I understand that, but it’s important to keep communications between the scientists and say the fishermen with mutual respect, and that way we can learn a lot from them. We scientists are trained to have a long-term view. It’s not just this season, this summer, this breeding season. It’s a long-term view. I think that’s so important.”

More restricted areas, which Romaine is pushing for, could simply result in overharvesting in areas without restrictions, both Bowman and Sclafani said.

There has also been some experimentation with extracting the blue blood while the animal is still alive, then rereleasing them into the water. This process is called biomedical harvesting.

“That’s becoming a more and more controversial topic,” Sclafani said. “The biomedical companies have maintained that it’s a low mortality rate — about 10 percent … they might even be as high as 40 or 50 percent.”

He also mentioned that there are concerns about the horseshoe crabs’ spawning activity after this process is completed.

Bowman stopped short of saying that the extinction of the horseshoe crab would have a drastic impact on human life, but it’s not a good sign.

“I was reading some very important news that’s coming out about the extinction of species on the planet,” Bowman said. “Species are going extinct at a huge rate. The cumulative effect is going to have a very bad effect on human civilization, far greater than we can imagine. We only see a little piece of it.”

Young horseshoe crabs at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook. File photo

Local fishermen came out to Brookhaven Town Hall last Thursday to let officials know they oppose Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push to limit horseshoe crab harvesting.

Earlier that week, Romaine (R) announced he and the town board would consider urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates the industry, to ban horseshoe crab harvesting within 500 feet of town-owned property in an effort to protect the crab population and allow them a safe place to mate.

Romaine moved to table the idea after hearing the baymen’s concerns.

The 450-million-year-old species are used for bait and in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries, as their blue blood is used to detect bacterial contamination in products. At a May 19 press conference, officials said if the crab population shrinks, other species — like those that eat the crabs’ eggs — could be negatively affected.

Stony Brook’s West Meadow Beach and Mount Sinai Harbor already have harvesting plans in place, and a ban would broaden the restriction area.

However, the fishermen said the restriction was not based on any facts and the horseshoe crab population is not declining. In addition, they said further regulation would affect their livelihoods.

Ron Bellucci Jr., of Sound Beach, said horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income. He added that he knows the crabs are important to the larger ecosystem, which he is a part of as well.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” he said.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a partnership between East Coast states to protect fisheries, a 2013 assessment of the horsecrab population showed a decrease in the New York and New England regions, while crabs have increased in the southern states — North Carolina through Florida — and remained stable from New Jersey through coastal Virginia.

David Klopfenstein, of the North Shore Baymen’s Association, urged the board to speak with the DEC before supporting a ban. He said there was a lot of misinformation regarding a very complex issue that is already being controlled.

“It’s also the most well-managed fisheries that we have up and down the East Coast,” he said.

The DEC did not immediately comment on the issue.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

With its horseshoe crab population dwindling, Town of Brookhaven officials are calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ban harvesting within 500 feet of town property.

At the Mount Sinai Stewardship Center at Cedar Beach on Tuesday, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the Brookhaven Town Board is poised to approve a message in support of the ban at Thursday night’s board meeting.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Horseshoe crabs are harvested for bait and medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and medical supplies, due to its special properties.

While there is already a harvesting ban in place for Mount Sinai Harbor, Romaine is seeking to expand the restriction across the north and south shores so the crabs have a safe place to mate.

The crabs take about nine years to reach sexual maturity.

“We think it is time not to stop or prohibit the harvesting of horseshoe crabs … but instead to say, ‘Not within town properties,’” Romaine stated.

Brookhaven’s Chief Environmental Analyst Anthony Graves and clean water advocacy group Defend H20’s Founder and President Kevin McAllister joined Romaine at the Tuesday morning press conference.

Graves said the ban would help preserve the 450-million-year-old species’ population.

Preserving the species affects more than just the crabs: If the population continues to shrink, other species — like the red knot bird, which eat the crab eggs — will suffer.

“They are in some ways an ecological keystone species,” Graves said. “That means that they serve a function beyond their individual existence.”

East Coast waterways are the epicenter for the crabs and, according to McAllister, states like New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia have already enacted harvesting limits. The crabs’ nesting season starts in mid-May and lasts until the end of June. Officials said the crabs are oftentimes harvested at night and illegally.

Romaine said he has asked all of the town’s waterfront villages to support the measure. If the DEC moves forward with the ban, Romaine said the town could help the department with enforcement by establishing an intermunicipal agreement.

A DEC representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

A view of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. File photo

Upon the recent receipt of a letter from a Virginia-native third-grade student (see Letters to the Editor), TBR has begun to think retrospectively about what it is that makes our coverage area so unique.

As residents and representatives of Long Island’s North Shore, we often forget to share the natural beauty and cultural heritage that defines where we live. The allure of the picturesque beaches, lush woodlands and historic villages capture our hearts, making it an ideal place to call home.

In terms of making a living, our areas offer a diverse range of opportunities. From bustling commercial centers like those off Nesconset Highway to locally owned shops, residents here engage in various professions spanning industries such as health care, education, finance, hospitality and more. Here at TBR News Media, we work to keep the community informed and up to date on all local news and events.

Our area is also home to excellent academic influence provided enormous contributions made by our research institutions, like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Lab, and Stony Brook University and Medical Center, the flagship campus of the State University System. 

To paint a picture, our coverage area displays picture-perfect beaches stretching along the coastline, framed by towering bluffs and pebble-riddled sands. You can find quaint village scenery all throughout our coverage area from Shoreham/Wading River to Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor, exhibiting charming Colonial architecture and a pleasant way to tour the towns. 

For fun, residents and visitors alike indulge in a plethora of activities. From relaxing beach days and scenic walks through Avalon or Frank Melville parks to cultural events and culinary delights, there’s something for everyone. Whether it’s exploring historic landmarks on Washington’s Spy Trail, visiting the Long Island Museum, attending art festivals or catching a show at a local theater like Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, the Smithtown Performing Arts Center or Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three, our coverage area offers endless opportunities for leisure and recreation.

As for wildlife, our coverage area is home to a diverse array of creatures. Along the coast, you may spot ospreys soaring overhead or even the endangered piping plover. Our rocky shoreline creates a unique habitat for horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs and fish galore. While inland, deer, fox and various bird species inhabit the woodlands and marshes, adding to our area’s natural charm.

When it comes to food, there is no shortage of options for whatever culinary palette you crave. Famous for our bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel sandwiches, gourmet delis, New-York-style pizza or fresh seafood caught off the shores to hearty Italian and Irish fare, there’s no shortage of delicious dishes to savor. 

For your ears, you’ll find a vibrant music scene with a diverse range of genres. From iconic rock bands like Billy Joel and Blue Öyster Cult to emerging indie artists and classical ensembles, the music of our area reflects the eclectic tastes and talents of its residents. Local tributes to music and entertainment are at the ready with the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and The Jazz Loft, both located in Stony Brook, hosting various events catered to music enthusiasts.

For the athletes and sports fans, our local high schools represent some of the most competitive athletes across the state in all disciplines. Rocky Point High School Cheerleading earned another national title this year, while the Lady Patriots of Ward Melville High School were crowned soccer state champions. If that isn’t enough, our very own Stony Brook University is yet another destination for local sports viewing, representing some of the finest student-athletes in the NCAA.

Tourism is a driver of our local economy as well as we are fortunate to have the greatest city in the world, New York City, within reach. Our area is a treasure trove of natural beauty, cultural heritage and community spirit. A place where small-town charm meets cosmopolitan sophistication, where history whispers secrets from its streets and where a vibrant community thrives, hand in hand with the beauty of the natural world. This unique confluence is what continues to make our area a coveted haven in the heart of New York state.