PAT NEAL: Green crab Dungeness’ newest tormenter

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news for our environment.

The recent discovery of “invasive” European green crabs (“European Green Crab Found In Dungeness Bay,” PDN, April 26) sent a shock wave through the ranks of the old-time crabbers.

They remember the old days when crabbing was all that really mattered.

May brought the big Dungeness crab into the bay to mate and lay their eggs.

Dungeness crab are cannibals when they are not mating.

Take it from me: You want a good hard shell when mating with a cannibal.

These crabs were in prime shape with legs full of sweet meat that could be cooked in any number of ways with the clams, oysters, flounder and salmon that could be caught while crabbing.

Dungeness Bay was also the nursery for halibut.

The walls of the old Dungeness Tavern were lined with black-and-white pictures of giant halibut — presumably females — that were caught right out in front in the bay.

The old Native American method of getting the big halibut was to dig a gunny sack full of butter clams, smash them with an ax and throw the sack overboard in a likely spot.

When the halibut grabbed the sack and started shaking it around, you threw the biggest herring you could find, sent it down to the bottom and it was fish on!

Those were the good old days, but the good old days were too good to last.

These days, nearly every species of fish and shellfish in Dungeness Bay is either threatened, polluted or just plain gone.

The most abundant species seems to be the hundreds of seals littering the sandbars whose bathroom habits can produce a bacteria bloom with unpronounceable names.

Now we have those pesky, invasive green crabs, which will eat up everything the seals don’t eat or pollute first.

Fortunately, state, federal and tribal co-managers are studying the problem.

These myriad government agencies have many years of experience eradicating marine species from our environment with the best available science.

Remember the true cod?

They used to be thick.

You almost always caught true cod when you went salmon fishing.

They made great fish and chips.

We got rid of true cod, dragging nets across the bottom for true cod where they fed on candlefish.

Candlefish got their name because when dried, they are so oily you can light them and they will burn like fish-scented candles.

Many fish eat candlefish, so they burrow in the gravel.

Salmon are sometimes caught with gravel in their jaws, which they probably picked up snatching candlefish.

Dragging for true cod plows the candlefish beds in a two-pronged approach that eliminates both.

Eliminating the food sources such as candlefish, smelt and herring has gone a long way toward reducing salmon, halibut and bottomfish populations.

The once-popular Dungeness Bay spring chinook fishery used to run through May and June.

You could just row out without a motor and catch king salmon.

This fishery has been closed due to a lack of interest among our fisheries co-managers.

Coincidentally, the production of Dungeness River hatchery salmon and steelhead that allowed for these world-class fisheries has been eliminated, curtailed or just plain shut down.

Admittedly, it took decades of tireless effort in addition to the best available science to achieve these results.

In fact, it has been a real challenge to manage a heretofore-perceived inexhaustible resource into economic extinction, but it was worth it.

The co-managers need only apply these same methods to the green crab and their days are numbered.

_________

Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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