Governor Ned Lamont held his latest bill signing ceremony this week, officially signing into law Public Act 23-6 banning the harvesting of horseshoe crabs from Connecticut waters. The bill was passed unanimously by both chambers of the General Assembly earlier this year.
Horseshoe crabs are a strange and unique species. They have 12 legs and 10 eyes, they have been shown to be uniquely resilient to climate change, and have existed since before the age of dinosaurs. In fact, the oldest known record of a horseshoe crab dates back 445 million years.
Horseshoe crabs are also important to both their environment and to humans. They provide a vital food source to several migratory birds who eat their eggs on their long journey. They also play host to a number of smaller marine life including “scuds, ghost anemones, Asteriids, snail furs, blue mussels, barnacles, sea strawberries, seal lettuce, red beard sponges, eastern oyster, northern rock barnacles, skeleton shrimps, sand builder worms, bushy bugulas, hard tube worms, flat worms, oyster drill eggs and Agardh’s red seaweed.”
Humans may be surprised to learn how important the creature has been to medical advancements over the years. Study of the horseshoe crab’s eyes has led to breakthroughs in ocular surgery as well as “dressings for burn patients.” But the greatest achievement was the discovery that the blood of horseshoe crabs can help in the testing of pharmaceuticals for bacteria. To this day, some of the harvesting of horseshoe crabs is done to collect the creature’s blue blood for use in medical testing. Most of these horseshoe crabs are returned to the oceans but around 15% die from the procedure.
Marine scientists and conservationists have expressed concern that over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs will ultimately be the thing that forces the ancient species into extinction. In addition to medical harvesting, fishermen catch thousands every year, mostly to use as bait for whelk and eel. On top of that, the Long Island Sound has seen a loss of habitats for horseshoe crabs which also cuts down on their population.
Connecticut previously had laws on the books limiting horseshoe crab harvesting in the waters of Long Island Sound but had stopped short of an overall ban until now.
“This law says that we need to take a break and let this species regenerate and get back to a state of good health,” said Governor Ned Lamont in a statement, noting that the population has been steadily decreasing in recent years. “I strongly urge our neighboring states to join this growing coalition and enact similar laws to protect the population in their waters.”
The law will go into effect on October 1st.