A better way to identify and stop invasive green crabs in Washington

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Invasive European green crabs continue to pose a threat to the Pacific Northwest, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has shared new information to help the community identify the crabs.

WDFW says everyday Washingtonians can help our community by documenting and reporting invasive European green crab sightings on theirs website.

European green crabs are often confused with native shore and kelp crabs. While the key indicator of a green crab is their color, they can also appear yellow or orange, particularly on their underside, legs, and claws.

According to Washington Sea Grant Jeff Adams, counting the five “teeth” on either edge of their shell is the best way to distinguish green crabs from other non-invasive species.

European green crabs thrive in the shallow water and soft sediment that Washington’s estuaries provide. And in the last two years, green crab populations appear to have exploded, particularly along the coast.

According to WDFW website, European green crabs are a globally harmful invasive species that pose a threat to Washington’s economic, environmental, and cultural resources. Potential impacts include destruction of seagrass beds and estuarine marsh habitats, threats to the shellfish industry, the Dungeness crab fishery, salmon exploitation and other ecological impacts on food webs.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has allocated around $2.2 million to help combat the spread of European green crabs. That’s more than a third of its $6 million budget for invasive aquatic species for the 2021-2023 biennium.

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Among the locations where green crab has been sighted, Makah Bay south of Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula has reported green crab sightings since 2017.

Arianne Akmajian, a marine ecologist with the Makah tribe, says the only way to stem the spread of European green crabs is through labor-intensive capture and observation. And they’re likely a threat — like a virus — that will never quite go away.

WDFW has partnered with the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team, which runs a volunteer-based early detection and surveillance program for European green crabs. To learn more about early detection, monitoring, and volunteer opportunities, visit the Sea Grant’s Crab Team website.

You can also report sightings of European green crabs WDFW websiteor call WDFW Aquatic Invasive Species staff at 1-888-933-9247.

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