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Settlement protects horseshoe crabs and endangered birds along SC coast

File- horse shoe crab washed ashore
Tim Emerich
File- horse shoe crab washed ashore

Conservationists have reached an agreement with a company that harvests horseshoe crabs for medicine.

A settlement announced this week in response to a federal lawsuit will better protect spawning horseshoe crabs from harvesting while still allowing them to be used for medicine.

Conservationists challenged the collection of horseshoe crabs by Charles River Laboratories of Charleston arguing the practice further endangered birds like the Red Knot that feast on the crabs' eggs. But the lab said it relied on horseshoe crab harvesting to help make vaccines because the crabs’ blue blood can be used to detect deadly toxins.

Now the parties involved have reached an agreement that will end harvesting of spawning horseshoe crabs on more than 30 beaches along the South Carolina coast, prohibit female crabs from being kept in holding ponds, and put conditions on how the crabs are collected.

“Our agreement allows for continued conservation of both horseshoe crabs and red knots, while maintaining the security of the biomedical supply chain,” said Gregory Marshal, the corporate VP and GM of Microbial Solutions, Charles River.

“Horseshoe crabs play a vital role in ensuring patient safety and we are glad to have come to an amicable resolution.”

Charles Rivers will also no longer collect and process horseshoe crabs from the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Awendaw. Earlier this month, federal wildlife officials determined such harvesting is not compatible with the refuge’s mission to protect nature.

“This resolution allows for smart, focused restrictions on horseshoe crab harvesting that ensure a critical food source for red knots at vital foraging locations,” said Coastal Conservation League Executive Director Faith Rivers James.

The agreement is good for the next five years and can be extended if all parties agree.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.