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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Live invasive crabs that are big eaters found in this Whatcom harbor for the first time


BELLINGHAM — More traps will be set for invasive European green crabs after four were found in Squalicum Harbor in June, the Port of Bellingham said.

The findings marked the first time that live green crabs have been discovered in the harbor in Bellingham, according to Mike Hogan, spokesman for the Port of Bellingham.

European green crabs threaten marine life here.

The remains of one were found in Squalicum in May 2019, which was the first confirmation of the invasive species’ presence in Whatcom County.

That was when a gull was seen feeding on the carcass at a boat ramp adjacent to the Port’s Marine Life Center, an educational center that features local marine critters and an interactive touch pool.

On June 2 of this year, the center’s coordinator, Casey Cook, found a live European green crab in a trap that the center has in Squalicum Harbor for educational purposes, according to a Facebook post from the Port of Bellingham.

The mature female crab was sent alive to the University of Washington for genetic analysis.

“While it is disconcerting to find #greencrab in the harbor, live specimens are extremely valuable for collecting data on the first arriving or surviving generations,” the Port said in its post.

On June 9, another three green crabs were found in traps in Squalicum Harbor that were set by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team have been working with tribes, local governments, volunteers and partners such as the Port to monitor the crabs’ presence in the state and Whatcom County as well as trap them and remove them. That includes in hot spots such as Drayton Harbor in Blaine.

The traps that will be set up at Squalicum Harbor this monitoring season will help determine the size and composition of the European green crabs’ population in the harbor, according to the Port’s post.

The Port said it “will continue to work with experts to determine the best course of action” and asks that if people “see new pots hanging out, please leave them in place as to avoid disrupting the ongoing research.”

Hungry predators

Considered one of the world’s worst invasive species, Carcinus maenas are voracious eaters and skilled predators that could prey on native shore crab species, compete with native fish for food and hurt the recreational and commercial shellfish harvest here, according to Washington Sea Grant as well as Fish and Wildlife.

Native Dungeness crabs, which are smaller when they’re younger, also could be affected. There’s a commercial fishery for Dungeness in the state.

They also could destroy vitally important eelgrass beds and estuarine marsh habitats and hurt salmon recovery, officials said.

They are native to the shores of the Baltic Sea and the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, ranging from northern Africa to Norway and Iceland. They’ve been a problem on the East Coast, where they are multiplying and have been blamed for the collapse of the soft-shell clam industry in parts of Maine.

European green crabs like a variety of coastal habitats and can thrive in wide ranges of temperature and salinity, especially muddy habitats such as salt marshes with deeply cut channels and sloughing banks, according to Washington Sea Grant at the University of Washington.