Group claims harvest of Horseshoe Crabs for blood at SC wildlife refuge violates federal statutes

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife on Monday released a statement challenging the legality of the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs at a Lowcountry wildlife sanctuary.

The blue blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested for a component “used to ensure medical products are free of bacteria.”

The crabs are harvested from the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge during their spawning season and “taken to a Charleston-area laboratory where workers drain about a third of the creatures’ blood.”

The crabs are re-released, however around 30% die as a result of the procedure, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. Those that do survive often “become so lethargic they fail to produce a normal volume of eggs.”

The claim calls into question the inaction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in regards to the harvesting taking place at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

Specifically, the claim accuses the US Fish and Wildlife Service of “skipping the critical work needed to assess what affects the horseshoe crab harvest would have on the shorebirds that rely on crab eggs for food, on the breeding success of nesting migratory birds, and on the ecological balance of the refuge.”

The decrease in horseshoe crab population could have detrimental impacts on the bird populations in the area, because migratory birds “time their long journeys to coincide with the availability of crab eggs,” according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

These impacts were not studied before the authorization of the harvest, which the Southern Environmental Law Center claims violates:

  • The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997
  • The Endangered Species Act
  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By improperly managing the refuge, the Southern Environmental Law Center claims that the US Fish and Wildlife Service authorized an action that “has killed chicks, destroyed eggs, disturbed countless birds, and adversely affected their abilities to breed, feed, and shelter.”

The group is calling on the immediate suspension of the horseshoe crab harvest until the US Fish and Wildlife Service “evaluates how it can proceed in a manner that no longer puts the refuge at risk.”

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