(The Center Square) – Washington is ramping up efforts to eradicate the predatory European green crab, which preys on native marine species and threatens both the environment and the state’s $270-million-a-year shellfish industry.
More than 100,000 non-native European green crabs were captured in Puget Sound last year, an increase of over 5,000% from 2019, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The invading species eats on clams, mussels, and oysters and is capable of consuming between up to 22 clams a day according to published reports.
The population explosion prompted Gov. Jay Inslee in January to order the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to take emergency measures to eradicate the European green crab.
If allowed to become permanently established, Inslee stated, the predator crabs could “destroy critical habitat such as eelgrass beds and estuarine marshes, disrupt natural food webs, harm overall crab populations, hinder salmon and Southern Resident killer whale recovery efforts, reduce shorebird food supplies, and ultimately affect the overall health and resiliency of the Salish Sea.”
The governor also expressed concern about the economic impact of the crab infestation on small businesses.
In March, the state Legislature funded the emergency eradication effort with $8.5 million in this year’s Supplemental Operating Budget.
Lawmakers had provided $783,000 for the purpose in 2020 and $2.3 million in 2021, but the infestation continued to spread, the WDFW reported. More than 64,000 of the invasive crabs have been removed from the state’s waterways already this year.
Washington Sea Grant’s Crab Team, tasked with early detection of the invasive species, reported that a European green crab had been found in Hood Canal for the first time in May.
WDFW is coordinating the current eradication effort with a coalition of state and federal agencies, tribal leaders, shellfish growers, and private landowners. Funding will be used to hire additional personnel and provide equipment in areas with existing green crab infestations, according to a WDFW statement.
Three boats have been deployed and several new employees hired so far, and some 700 traps deployed. The WDFW has promised that more resources will be forthcoming.
More than 3,200 Washingtonians work in the state’s shellfish industry, which contributes about $270 million a year to the state’s economy according to USGS estimates.
The WDFW urges anyone who believes they have identified a European green crab or its shell to take a picture and report it to the WDFW as soon as possible. The crabs should not be killed or removed, the agency warns, due to the danger of misidentifying a native crab as European Green crab.