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Parties agree to consent order to protect horseshoe crabs and red knots

Ross Norton //August 25, 2023//

Parties agree to consent order to protect horseshoe crabs and red knots

Ross Norton //August 25, 2023//

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Charles River Laboratories International Inc. is teaming up with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and others interested the wellbeing of the horseshoe crab population to announce a joint resolution of litigation related to the collection and temporary use of holding ponds for horseshoe crabs in the state.

The blue blood of the horseshoe crab is used in medical research and manufacturing. (Photo/Provided)Others taking part are Gault Seafood LLC; Marsh Point Farm Inc.; and the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing Defenders of Wildlife and the Coastal Conservation League, according to a news release.

The parties have negotiated and collectively agreed to a final consent order that provides for five years of enhanced protections for spawning horseshoe crabs and migrating red knots while ensuring continued access to horseshoe crabs for use in biomedical testing. Among other things, this agreement: 

  • restricts horseshoe crab collection on the beaches of more than 30 islands along the South Carolina coast that are established feeding sites for red knots during their annual migration;
  • prohibits the temporary placement of female horseshoe crabs in holding ponds so they continue to spawn on South Carolina beaches and red knots can access horseshoe crab eggs;
  • provides additional permitting conditions that include enhanced protection of horseshoe crabs during the collection process; and,
  • provides SCDNR with additional data from contract fishermen.

Horseshoe crabs are used in research, the best known use is in medical research where the blue blood is used by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to test their products for the presence of endotoxins, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“Under the supervision of Judge Richard Gergel, all parties worked together in good faith on the important matters of conservation and public health, which are not mutually exclusive,” Charles River’s corporate vice president and general manager for Microbial Solutions, said in the news release. “Our agreement allows for continued conservation of both horseshoe crabs and red knots, while maintaining the security of the biomedical supply chain. Horseshoe crabs play a vital role in ensuring patient safety, and we are glad to have come to an amicable resolution.”  

In the consent order, Charles River agrees to continue to refrain from collecting and processing horseshoe crabs from all areas of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Charles River will also cover the financial cost of an independent monitor, who will report to the court and the parties to ensure ongoing compliance with the joint agreement, the news release stated.

“Stewardship of South Carolina’s public trust resources is a team sport,” SCDNR Executive Director Robert Boyles said in the release. “The Department is pleased with the resolution of this litigation and looks forward to continued collaboration with all of the parties involved for the protection of these resources.”

Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the agreement was a long time in coming.

“This landmark settlement comes after years of litigation and represents a huge milestone for South Carolina wildlife and the citizens who care about it,” she said in the release. “We are glad that Charles River has agreed to increased protections for red knots and to conduct its operations in South Carolina in a more sustainable way.”

“This is an exciting step in our work toward a sustainable future for the people and wildlife of the Southeast,” Ben Prater, Southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said in the release. “We successfully and collaboratively secured protections for South Carolina's coast, including the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. This agreement will help maintain the integrity of essential habitats for horseshoe crabs, their spawning grounds and critical food sources for imperiled wildlife including migratory birds like the red knot. We value the commitments both Charles River and SCDNR have made to wildlife conservation and our shared responsibility framed by the Endangered Species Act.”

Faith Rivers James, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, said in the release: “This resolution allows for smart, focused restrictions on horseshoe crab harvesting that ensures a critical food source for red knots at vital foraging locations along South Carolina’s coastal plain. The Conservation League is dedicated to protecting the health of our state’s natural resources. We are pleased that this resolution allows these federally threatened, long-distance migrating shorebirds better access to the fuel they need for their transcontinental journeys.”