The Truth About That Horseshoe Crab ‘Holocaust’

There’s another side to the story, one the mainstream media isn’t telling you …

Green … is good. Seriously, whether you are a Birkenstock-wearing Mother Earther from Charleston, South Carolina with a Ralph Nader sticker on your Prius (and questionable personal hygiene) or a Bible-thumping Upstate mom practicing Godly stewardship via church-sponsored recycling drives/ tree plantings … helping the planet is a definitional positive.

Certainly, there are important environmental debates taking place in our society – like the extent, cause and ostensible consequences of climate change – but whether you believe humans are responsible for rising temperatures or not, it is hard to argue with the basic premise of trying one’s level best to leave someplace better than you found it.

That’s the old “campsite maxim,” and it is something we should all be doing no matter what the thermostat reads … and no matter what we believe is causing it to rise or fall.

Over the last few decades, an array of new technologies has been employed with the goal of achieving global “sustainability” through renewable resources. Also, people have come to view the ideals of sustainability and renewability as things of value in and of themselves (which they are) – intrinsic attributes for which they are willing to pay a premium in the marketplace.

As the myriad of debates tied to these issues advance, I believe it is vital to host them openly, explore them fully … and recognize there are important perspectives that just aren’t going to be fairly presented by the mainstream media, which too often acts as a “ctrl-C, ctrl-V” regurgitation mechanism for eco-radical propaganda.

Oh, and when it comes to projections touted as gospel by these mainstream outlets, I believe we should always take them with an ocean of salt. Why? Because they aren’t always on the mark (or even close to the mark).

For example …

Last week, “investigative” reporter of Chiara Eisner of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper published an article which laid bare the MSM’s one-sided approach to environmental “reporting.” Eisner’s story focused on a recent ruling (.pdf) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) related to horseshoe crab harvesting for medical use in South Carolina’s Cape Romain national wildlife refuge.

I have skimmed a few of Eisner’s columns on this topic before, including one article a liberal friend recently emailed to me accompanied by the subtle, lowercase-averse title “HORSESHOE CRAB HOLOCAUST.”

Holocaust? Really?

That was the word my friend used … and according to her, my news outlet has been “complicit” in said “holocaust” by refusing to join Eisner and other members of the mainstream media in condemning the “inhumane” treatment of Limulus polyphemus, a.k.a. the Atlantic horseshoe crab.

Clearly I have never claimed to be an angel, but … an enabler of horseshoe crab genocide?

Who knew, right?

(Click to view)

(Via: Getty Images)

So … what is actually happening here? Are horseshoe crabs (above) truly being slaughtered en masse along the Palmetto State’s 187-mile coastline? And is this “holocaust” contributing to the decimation of their population and the potential disruption of an entire ecosystem, as some have implied?

Let’s set the eco-radical hyperbole aside for a moment and try to assess this situation rationally, shall we?

Prior to acquainting myself with Eisner’s articles, my knowledge of horseshoe crabs was quite limited. In fact, it pretty much consisted of my father pointing them out to me on the beach when I was a child … or me pointing them out to my own children during our family trips to the coast. I remember learning how horseshoe crabs were one of a handful of species of animals (like sea stars) which have the ability to regrow lost limbs – and that they have a total of nine eyes. And of course I also knew they had a prominent tail (called a telson) – which contrary to popular belief is not a stinger.

Although sometimes I enjoy letting my kids believe that it is … (kidding).

I also knew these fascinating creatures have a history almost as old as the planet itself … making them among nature’s most durable survivors.

In recent weeks, I have learned that horseshoe crabs play an absolutely vital role in the marine ecosystem – particularly in the Palmetto State. Their eggs serve as a vital food source for any number of species of migratory birds, for example – just as their shells offer habitat for all manner of bacteria and small mollusks (including blue mussels). And in addition to their place in the food chain, the movement of these animals along the sea floor also helps stir up and oxygenate the sediment – enabling habitation by a host of other animals.

Again, absolutely fascinating …

But these remarkable creatures – which can weigh up to eleven pounds and span more than two feet – also play a much more vital role when it comes to protecting public health. And this role has never been more essential than right now – as vaccinations are playing a prominent role in combating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It turns out the blue blood from Atlantic horseshoe crabs contains an extract called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL). Without getting too deep into the scientific weeds, LAL provides the most accurate, reliable and effective method of detecting bacterial endotoxins in biopharmaceutical products – including Covid-19 vaccines and a wide range of other applications. In fact, according to Charles River – a company which collects horseshoe crab blood for the purpose of pathogen testing – “IV drugs, antibiotics and implantable medical devices are all examples of biopharmaceutical products that need to be tested to ensure they are free of bacterial endotoxins.”

As of this writing, an estimated 55 percent of all “injectable pharmaceuticals or implantable devices that come in contact with blood” are tested using Charles River’s LAL products, the company says. And that’s around the world, not just in the United States.

In other words, if you’ve gotten your Covid-19 shots … or received fluids or other medicines intravenously recently, you should probably thank the horseshoe crab (and the company which harvests its blood for medical application).



According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) – which is responsible for monitoring the health of the horseshoe crab population in the Palmetto State – biomedical companies like Charles River “annually harvest adult horseshoe crabs by hand during the spawning season.”

“Crabs are transported to laboratories where they are washed and about one third of their blood removed,” the agency noted. “After bleeding, the crabs are returned to the water where they can regenerate the blood taken in about a week. Horseshoe crab blood is now being considered in cancer research. Scientists hope that the blood from this special creature will have even more lifesaving uses in the future.”

Not if the eco-radicals have their way, though …

Assuming the recent FWS edict goes unchallenged, all of this work could grind to a halt.

As I hinted in the opening to this column, the ongoing vendetta against horseshoe crab harvesting (for medical purposes) ignores several critical facts. First, it presumes the extraction of this vital toxin detector is somehow decimating the horseshoe crab population – which is patently false. Not only are the crabs returned to their natural habitat once their blood is drawn, but the latest SCDNR data does not show a declining horseshoe crab population.

In fact, SCDNR cited “a population increase over the last several years.”

Moreover, a 2019 report from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) determined horseshoe crab populations had remained “consistently neutral and good, respectively, through time.”

In other words, not declining …

Horseshoe crabs are a vulnerable species, to be sure, but that stems from their over-harvesting in the 1990s as a source of bait for commercial eel and whelk fisheries – not their medical use. In fact, according to ASMFC more than twice as many horseshoe crabs were killed for bait as were temporarily displaced for medical purposes in 2017, the latest year for which complete data is available.

Fortunately, this report uncovered that “commercial fishermen have adopted new gear such as bait bags and cups allowing them to effectively catch eel and conch while using as little as a tenth of the previous portion of bait per pot.”

Hopefully these advances will reduce the reliance on horseshoe crab meat for such purposes … not unlike Charles River’s ongoing deployment of new technologies to reduce the amount of blue blood it must extract from horseshoe crabs in order to meet global toxin screening demand.

(Click to view)

(Via: FWS)

Also worth pointing out? The Palmetto State is a national leader when it comes to protecting horseshoe crabs. In South Carolina, it is illegal to harvest this animal for use as eel or whelk bait. In fact, according to the S.C. Code of Laws (§ 50-5-1330), horseshoe crab harvesting for any purpose is “unlawful except under permit” granted by SCDNR.

The lone permissible use for which one can receive such a permit? Collecting the crab’s blue blood for the specific purpose of producing LAL. The law also imposes several affirmative obligations on companies which undertake this narrow use. Specifically, crabs can only be held in “facilities approved by (SCDNR),” they must be “handled so as to minimize injury” and they must be “returned unharmed to state waters of comparable salinity and water quality as soon as possible after bleeding.”

Anyone violating these provisions faces a fine of up to $500 and thirty days in jail – per crab.

One final consideration: The horseshoe crab industry provides a tremendous economic boost to South Carolina. Charles River’s facility in West Ashley, S.C. is part of a $70 million investment the company has made in the Palmetto State. It employs 300 people directly and supports the work of hundreds of others (including fishermen). Charles River has also paid an estimated $7.5 million over the past three years in taxes.

“Our activities and the work of the South Carolinians that we employ ensures that the state maintains its critical position in the global biopharmaceutical supply chain,” the company noted. “South Carolinians play important roles across a wide range of disciplines in our facilities here.”

And as noted above, these “important roles” are currently playing a mission critical component in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic – not to mention enabling numerous other life-saving medical treatments.

Bottom line? You wouldn’t have gathered as much from the MSM’s one-sided treatment of the issue, but this is a debate with multiple layers – including a compelling legal question as to whether FWS is even allowed to impose horseshoe crab harvesting restrictions on land that belongs to the state.

I plan on digging into that legal question – and further exploring the issues raised above – in the weeks to come. And as always, my microphone is open to anyone interested in offering an educated take on this – or any subject covered by this news outlet.



(Via: FITSNews)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Mike Schmidt-era Philadelphia Phillies’ lid pictured above).



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