Intervention led by IUCN experts stops import of Asian horseshoe crabs into USA

08 April 2013 | News story

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a network of experts who provide knowledge and advice on species and a wide range of conservation issues. Recently, the IUCN SSC Horseshoe Crab Specialist Group proved how successful this network can be at influencing conservation action by leading an intervention that has led to an import ban on Asian horseshoe crabs destined to be bait in the USA.

After being informed that horseshoe crabs were being imported into the USA for use as bait in the eel and whelk (conch) fishing industry, the IUCN SSC Horseshoe Crab Specialist Group contacted various US Federal and State Agencies to convey their concerns. In a letter they highlighted the risks importing the crabs pose such as the introduction of harmful invasive parasites or diseases into the American marine environment, the detrimental impact of the trade on Asian horseshoe population numbers and the potential risk to human health should the horseshoe crabs be sold for human consumption.

The situation also highlighted the lack of laws or regulations prohibiting the export of horseshoe crabs from Asia and lack of restrictions for their import into the USA. In their letter, the Specialist Group referred to various IUCN guidelines and policies in order to emphasize the need for risk assessments prior to import that analyze the impact of introducing non-native animals and diseases and identify the potential hazards, something that was not done before the import of Asian horseshoe crabs into the USA began.

Although Asian horseshoe crabs are not alive when placed into the marine environment of US Atlantic waters, the IUCN SSC Horseshoe Crab Specialist Group expressed their concern that parasites, pathogens or non-native, invasive species introduced via the Asian horseshoe crabs could have a detrimental effect on American horseshoe crab populations. Furthermore, any impact on the native horseshoe populations could have knock on effects on other species dependent on the horseshoe crab or their eggs, such as shorebirds, including the Red Knot (Calidris canutus).

The IUCN SSC Horseshoe Specialist Group is currently revising the IUCN Red List Assessment for the three Asian species of horseshoe crab, (Tachypleus tridentatus, Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) which are currently listed as Data Deficient. Based on available evidence, the Specialist Group believe that many populations of Asian horseshoe crabs have experienced serious declines and any incentive to export horseshoe crabs to the USA could lead to further population declines.

The actions of the IUCN SSC Horseshoe Specialist Group initiated a rapid response from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) who adopted the resolution to ban the import and use of Asian horseshoe crabs as bait. In doing so, the IUCN SSC Horseshoe Crab Specialist Group have highlighted how the IUCN SSC can play a pivotal role in addressing complex and controversial conservation issues and bring about measures that protect populations of threatened species.

For more information please contact:

Camellia Williams, IUCN Species Programme Communications, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0154, e camellia.williams@iucn.org