- A court in Indonesia has sentenced a boat captain to 15 months in jail and fined him $3,500 for attempting to traffic thousands of dead horseshoe crabs to Thailand.
- All three horseshoe crabs found in Indonesian waters are protected under the country’s laws, but conservationists say the illegal trade continues largely unchecked.
- Horseshoe crabs have existed for nearly half a billion years, but today face rapidly declining populations across their range as a result of overfishing for use as food and bait, production of biomedical products derived from their blood, and habitat loss from coastal development and erosion.
MEDAN, Indonesia — A court in Indonesia has sentenced a boat captain to 15 months in prison for attempting to smuggle thousands of horseshoe crabs out of the country to Thailand.
In its verdict handed down Nov. 27, the Medan District Court in North Sumatra province also ordered Sukandar, 40, to pay 50 million rupiah ($3,500) in fines.
Sukandar and two of his crew, Mustariadi and M. Amin, were arrested at the end of January this year by an Indonesian Navy patrol boat in the Malacca Strait, which separates Sumatra from the Malay Peninsula. They were found to be carrying 7,000 dead horseshoe crabs, from three of the four known species: Indo-Pacific horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas), the Chinese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus), and the mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda).
All three are protected species under Indonesian law, and attempting to smuggle them carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and fines of up to 100 million rupiah ($7,000).
Sukandar was also found to be carrying 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds) of mangrove crabs (Scylla serrata) and crab meat on board his boat.
According to the officers who arrested him, Sukandar had been heading for Thailand but failed to present the necessary paperwork for his cargo.
China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are some of the top destinations for smuggled horseshoe crabs, where they’re considered a culinary delicacy, according to the wildlife conservation group Forum Investigator Zoo Indonesia. It estimates at least 10,000 horseshoe crabs are trafficked out of Indonesian every week, with an average 2,000 sent to Thailand, 4,000 to China, and 2,300 to Malaysia and Singapore as the main markets.
Andi Sinaga, a researcher with Forum Investigator Zoo Indonesia, said Sukandar was likely an experienced smuggler, working as part of a network of fishermen and middlemen catching and smuggling horseshoe crabs to those lucrative export markets.
“We’ve tried to investigate it — apparently the conservation agency in North Sumatra knows about it, but isn’t doing anything,” Andi said.
He said the hotspots for catching and trading horseshoe crabs were along the coast between North Sumatra and Aceh provinces. Some restaurants in the region openly list the animals and their eggs on their menus.
“Every day there are hundreds of horseshoe crabs coming in on a covered truck to the restaurants],” Andi said. “They usually drop the order either in the morning or in the evening.”
Horseshoe crabs aren’t true crabs, being more closely related to spiders. They’ve been in existence for nearly half a billion years, predating the dinosaurs and earning them the title of “living fossils.” Today, they are an important part of the food chain in coastal areas throughout their range.
There are four known species of horseshoe crab. The three seized in Indonesia are native to South and Southeast Asia, while the fourth, the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus), is found along the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. All four species are experiencing rapid population decline due to overfishing for use as food and bait, production of biomedical products derived from their blood, and habitat loss from coastal development and erosion.
The video below shows Indonesian authorities confiscating thousands of dead horseshoe crabs from the boat heading to Thailand.
This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on Dec. 1, 2019.
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.