News | May 13, 2022

Horseshoe crabs protected from further harvesting in ACE Basin 

In late April, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources denied a request by Charles River Laboratories to harvest horseshoe crabs from the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Basin—the ACE Basin—one of the largest undeveloped estuaries along the state’s coast. 

For nearly three decades, Charles River Labs, a $22 billion multinational pharmaceutical company, has bled crabs from South Carolina at its Charleston facility. Although DNR has routinely denied the public information about how many horseshoe crabs are taken from the state’s waters, as many as 150,000 animals are removed from South Carolina beaches each year, according to a Charles River employee. A synthetic alternative to horseshoe crab blood has proven equally effective and is used by Charles River’s competitors.  

The denial of Charles River’s request  keeps the 1.6 million-acre ACE Basin watershed, one of the largest areas of undeveloped wetlands/uplands ecosystems remaining on the Atlantic Coast, free from commercial harvesting.  

“The ACE Basin provides critical habitat for migratory birds and endangered species—it is no place for harvesting a 450-million-year-old species for bleeding,” says Catherine Wannamaker, a senior attorney 

Although harvesting remains a major threat on our coast, red knots and horseshoe crabs have two sanctuaries in Cape Romain and the ACE where they are protected from Charles River.

Senior Attorney Catherine Wannamaker

Horseshoe crab harvesting poses threats beyond the ACE Basin.

DNR permits Charles River to take unlimited numbers of crabs from beaches across the State and store them in crowded ponds for weeks before they are bled, a practice only allowed in South Carolina. The practice deprives a threatened shorebird, the red knot, of its primary food source: horseshoe crab eggs, which the birds need to fuel their migration and breed.

Horseshoe crab eggs are the primary food source for red knots, a threatened species.

SELC is challenging this practice in another case filed on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and Coastal Conservation League. In October 2020, SELC and Defenders of Wildlife successfully sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for allowing Charles River’s agents to harvest horseshoe crabs at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge without a federal permit.  

“Although harvesting remains a major threat on our coast, red knots and horseshoe crabs have two sanctuaries in Cape Romain and the ACE where they are protected from Charles River,” says Wannamaker.