Invasive crab threatening shellfish industry, salmon found in another bay in western Washington

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The European Washington green crab population has exploded in recent years.

BOW, Washington – An invasive crab is causing concern for salmon and shellfish in Washington. The European green crab is one of the most aggressive sea creatures on the planet.

The european green crab is an “efficient predator”, according to Sea Grant Washington, and poses a major threat to the fishing and shellfish industries in the Pacific Northwest.

The population is spreading rapidly in Washington State and the race is on to eradicate them before they pinch the state’s economy.

The crabs have taken over the Lummi Indian Reservation, with Grays Harbor and Pacific counties being the toughest, but they are now found in Skagit County’s Samish Bay.

This is where a team of anglers from Taylor Shellfish catch the crabs, but that “catch of the day” is something no one wants.

“It’s pretty scary. It’s my livelihood out there,” said angler Andy Dewey. “A lot of jobs depend on it.”

The invasive species is spreading through Washington waters, its numbers growing, with an estimated 140,000 of them found this year alone.

“It’s a trend we don’t want to see,” Dewey said. “It’s getting worse.”

European green crabs damage salmon spawning habitats. They eat local Dungeness crabs, as well as clams. A study found that a single crab can eat up to 22 clams in a single day.

This is what the fishing crew use as bait in the traps they throw into the bay.

Capturing crabs brings mixed feelings on the water.

“It hurts and good,” Dewey said. “It’s not good to find them, but it feels good to get rid of them.”

Shellfish is a $270 million-a-year industry in Washington, supporting about 3,200 jobs. Catching the crabs before the situation spirals out of control is key.

The soft-shell crab industry in Maine has been badly affected by starving European crabs.

In Samish Bay alone, shellfish generate 70 full-time jobs, $2 million in payroll and $9 million in sales.

The situation got so bad in 2021 that Governor Jay Inslee issued an emergency ordinance to address the European green crab problem.

In less than an hour, Samish Bay’s four-man crew catches a dozen green crabs.

They are sent to the University of Washington for analysis.

This is the last group until spring when the traps will be set again.

“Maybe if we focus on trapping them, we can get them below a breeding population and stem the impact here,” said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish.

But this catch of the day is elusive and the fishermen are much more numerous.

“It’s kind of a lost cause to think we’re going to stop them,” Andy Taylor said, “but we can slow them down by going as fast as we can.”

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