We’re one step closer to protecting horseshoe crabs


Supporters spoke up in this action

Delivery to U.S. Pharmacopeia

Action ended on January 30, 2024

What Happens Next

Thank you to all who took action! We’re grateful for your support.

What Was At Stake

For more than 400 million yearssince before dinosaurs roamed the earth – horseshoe crabs have inhabited the world’s oceans. In the past several decades, these prehistoric creatures have been harvested for their bright blue blood. The blood is processed into a substance that detects contamination in a variety of products from vaccines to joint replacements. Synthetic alternatives are now available, and we need your help getting industry to adopt them.  

Horseshoe crabs are a keystone species, essential to the modern-day ecosystems they live in. When they thrive, they lay a superabundance of eggs, enough to sustain their population and provide an irreplaceable food source for many other species. One species – the red knot shorebird – undertakes an annual, 19,000-mile round-trip that can span from the southern tip of South America to its breeding grounds in the Arctic. This journey coincides with horseshoe crab spawning season, and most red knots stop on the U.S. Atlantic coast to feast on these eggs to fuel the rest of their journey. Red knots are now listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and need more horseshoe crab eggs to help them recover. Earthjustice has long worked to protect horseshoe crabs from being overharvested for use as fishing bait, and now we have a critical opportunity to reduce their harvest for use by the biomedical industry. 

Massive quantities of horseshoe crabs are taken from the Atlantic coast (with more than 900,000 in 2022 alone) and transported to laboratories where they’re strapped down, a needle is inserted near their hearts, and up to half of their bright blue blood drains into vials below. Ideally, the horseshoe crabs are then returned to the ocean, but an untold number don’t survive the procedure, and the long-term effects on surviving crabs are poorly understood.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. The good news is that several companies offer synthetic alternatives that are equally effective at detecting contamination and are manufactured without exploiting horseshoe crabs. Industry has been slow to adopt these alternatives because under the regulatory framework, companies must jump through extra hoops to use them. There’s no reason the synthetic alternatives should be harder to use – many countries have approved them, and one U.S. company (Eli Lilly) has done the extra work to begin using them.  

Recently, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), which sets standards for medical safety testing, proposed to allow companies to use the synthetic alternatives under the same terms as the substance created from horseshoe crab blood. If finalized, this proposal would enable a much faster transition toward synthetic alternatives and give horseshoe crabs an urgently needed reprieve. Urge the USP to finalize this proposal and remove the unnecessary barriers to using synthetic alternatives. 

A horseshoe crab in the Delaware Bay near Fortescue, New Jersey, on May 23, 2022.
A horseshoe crab in the Delaware Bay near Fortescue, N.J. (Aristide Economopoulos for Earthjustice)

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