This Crab's Blood Is the Reason You're Alive 

Biomedical companies are bleeding more than 500,000 horseshoe crabs every year. Can this creature that's been around since the dinosaurs be saved? 



The firms involved in this fishing will say they use best management practices in their harvesting, but it’s totally voluntary, open-ended, and vague, Novitsky says, which isn’t surprising. The rules were put forward by representatives of the LAL labs, which sit on ASMFC’s committees. ASMFC has best practices spelled out, but they have neither enforcement nor surveillance capabilities.

"It also made us realize we don't know what these guys do most of the year."

“I was getting directives from the ownership that we weren’t profitable enough, and you know how that goes,” said Novitsky, who was pushed out of Cape Cod Associates after it was acquired by a Japanese firm.

Owings and Watson say they don’t want to stop biomedical companies from bleeding crabs. They just want them to do it in a less damaging way. For instance: Companies may not know that when the crabs are bled—or even just held in the laboratory for a long period of time—they have a hard time replenishing their blood supply because their hemocyanin levels remain low, Watson says. Hemocyanin is a protein similar to hemoglobin that transports oxygen through the body. It’s as if the crabs become anemic, and it happens by just taking them out of the water, whether you bleed them or not, though the recovery is worse if they’ve been bled. Their studies have shown that just being in captivity had a negative effect, Owings says.

“Imagine if you had a cow, and every time you milked it, it took a month before it had more milk. That’s the problem here,” Watson says, noting that if you take a quart of blood from a human, the person recovers within days.