Harvesters collect horseshoe crabs in 2019 off Turtle Island near the South Carolina-Georgia border. Lowcountry Photo Safaris/Provided Lowcountry Safari

SC - Horseshoe crabs get protection in SC after harvesters, conservation groups reach deal

Harvesting of horseshoe crabs will end on more than 30 islands along the South Carolina coast under a new deal conservation groups struck with Charles River Laboratories.

The deal comes in the wake of a federal lawsuit challenging the Charleston-based lab’s controversial collection of the crabs for its lucrative blood extraction business. The company has long collected the crabs for their bluish blood, which is used to make an extract that can detect deadly toxins in vaccines and medical equipment. A gallon can fetch $60,000.

But conservationists also have fought the practice for years, arguing that the harvest harms the crabs and threatens vulnerable birds such as the red knot, a species that feeds on the crabs’ eggs.


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The agreement, which was filed Aug. 23 in the federal court in Charleston, lasts for five years and involves Charles River Labs, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Gault Seafood and Marsh Point Farm. The Southern Environmental Law Center represented the Defenders of Wildlife and the Coastal Conservation League.

It comes in the wake of investigative reports by The Post and Courier Uncovered project in 2022, “Monkeys and Blood,” and The State newspaper that exposed the secretive nature of Charles River Labs monkey-breeding and horseshoe crab businesses in South Carolina.

Horseshoe crab collection, according to the deal, would be restricted on more than 30 island beaches that are established feeding grounds for red knots. Charles River Labs agreed not to collect crabs from Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

Federal wildlife officials determined this month that horseshoe crab harvesting was not compatible with Cape Romain’s mission of protecting nature and recommended it should be halted during the spawning season.

Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the settlement a landmark in conservation in the Palmetto State that “represents a huge milestone for South Carolina wildlife and the citizens who care about it.”

She hailed the settlement as “rather incredible” in the protections it will offer red knot birds, which have seen a dramatic decline in the last decade. In 2014, they were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Gregory Marshall, Charles River Labs vice president and general manager, said the agreement would allow for the conservation of both red knots and horseshoe crabs, which “play a vital role in ensuring patient safety.”

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