Skip to main content

To Bolster Horseshoe Crabs

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 17:41
Baymen harvest approximately 125,000 of the ancient arthropods for eel and whelk traps annually, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension experts.

A research project to test an alternative bait in Long Island bays could result in almost 100,000 fewer horseshoe crabs harvested, which would significantly bolster the breeding population, the East Hampton Town Trustees were told on Monday. 

Gina Mulhearn-Cappiello, a site coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s horseshoe crab network, told the trustees that baymen harvest approximately 125,000 of the ancient arthropods for eel and whelk traps annually. Horseshoe crabs are also a seasonal delicacy for invertebrates and finfish, while their eggs are the most abundant food item during shorebirds’ migration.

They also serve humanity in another, critically important way: Their copper-based blood is used by the medical and physiological research industries to ensure that devices and procedures including heart stents and pacemakers, vaccines and chemotherapies, are free of endotoxin. But the Asian population has been overfished and is diminished, she said. “The whole world is relying on horseshoe crab blood to test for endotoxin.” 

Horseshoe crabs also have limited space to spawn. They need sandy beaches, but bulkheads and wetlands have proliferated in South Shore estuaries, leaving few sandy spits and islands. Just 24 percent of the shoreline remains suitable for spawning, Ms. Mulhearn-Cappiello said.  

The horseshoe crab’s current population status along the East Coast is unknown. In 1991, Ms. Mulhearn-Cappiello said, New Jersey beaches contained about 100,000 eggs per square yard, but recent studies showed just 5,000 to 6,000 per square yard. In the early 1990s, fishermen took as many as 2 million horseshoe crabs each year to use as bait, she said, while at the same time, biomedical companies were catching them for the approximately 70 million endotoxin tests done annually. Results of an assessment of regional populations and evaluation of estimated mortality because of biomedical use that began in 2017 are not yet known. 

In cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Cornell Cooperative Extension has taken the lead in conducting stock assessments, she said, surveying 30 sites around Long Island, including in East Hampton. At the height of spawning season, hundreds of citizen scientists tag horseshoe crabs and collect data under full and new moons. The D.E.C. uses the data to assess and assist with regional management and conservation of the species. 

“This is why I’m here,” Ms. Mulhearn-Cappiello told the trustees in introducing the Alternative Bait Research Project. The alternative bait was developed by researchers at the University of Delaware, who identified 100 compounds in horseshoe crab tissue, ruling out some as components that attract eel and whelk. The researchers were able to develop an artificial attractor that could reduce the number of horseshoe crabs needed for use as bait in each trap from one-quarter of the animal to one-sixteenth, saving some 100,000 per year. 

But its efficacy must be tested and refined in local waters, Ms. Mulhearn-Cappiello said. The two-year research project will require staff, boats, and materials. For that, the project needs an estimated $250,000. 

The trustees agreed to donate $500 to the project, and encouraged residents to consider making their own donations. Details are at


Juneteenth: ‘This Is American History’

Following the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021, commemorating the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, education efforts have grown throughout the community. “At the end of the day, this is something that should be taught because this is American history,” said Georgette Grier-Key, executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor.

Jun 20, 2024

Georgica Pond Group Taps Assemblyman Thiele as Next Director

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced in February that he would not be seeking re-election in November after nearly 30 years in state government. For those wondering what his next act would be, the suspense is over: Mr. Thiele has been named executive director of the Friends of the Georgica Pond Foundation.

Jun 20, 2024

Jerry’s Team Is Re-Elected

There were no surprises in the East Hampton Village election on Tuesday. Mayor Jerry Larsen, Chris Minardi, the deputy mayor, and Sandra Melendez, another village trustee, all ran unopposed and were re-elected to four-year terms.

Jun 20, 2024

Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.