PAT NEAL: The green crab blues

The green crab is in the news again. Scientists are tagging them to track their movements. The green crab is an invasive species first noticed in Willapa Bay in 1961. By the late 1990s, the green crab was found from California to British Columbia.

Lately, they have infested the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee declared war on the green crab, forking over almost $9 million to fund a committee of co-managers to study the problem. In 2023, 180,000 green crab were removed from Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has many years of experience eradicating marine species from our environment with the best available science. WDFW made it illegal to collect or possess a green crab, claiming Washingtonians are too ignorant to tell the difference between a green crab and native crab. Ignoring the fact that we have to identify myriad species to fish or hunt in Washington.

There are eight species of trout in Washington that you must identify in case you catch one. In many waters, you can keep a cutthroat trout but not a rainbow. Don’t know the difference? That can get you a ticket.

There are five species of salmon you may or may not possess depending on the area, seasons, size and bag limits. In addition, sometimes you must turn loose a fish with an adipose fin indicating it is an unclipped hatchery fish. Don’t know what an adipose fin is? The fish cops will be more than willing to help you with that.

There are 12 species of rockfish, which the WDFW fishing pamphlet describes as “challenging to identify.” Some of them you can keep and some you must release or face fines, but it is up to the angler to figure it out.

We have four species of shrimp. Each has different seasons and bag limits. We have eight species of clams. Some clam limits are by weight and others list the number and size of the clams you may keep. Caution is advised.

If you think fishing, shrimping and clamming is too complicated, then forget about hunting. You’re allowed four grouse per day, but not more than three dusky, spruce or ruffed grouse. Confused? Don’t go duck hunting.

You’re allowed seven ducks but only one pintail and only two mallard hens. Can’t identify a duck flying 45 miles an hour? Don’t go goose hunting. We have seven subspecies of Canada geese. To hunt some of these subspecies, you must take a test and pass with an 80 percent score or forget about your Christmas goose.

Still, the WDFW is convinced that Washingtonians are too stupid to identify a green crab. We are forced to release them back into the water, where they threaten the destruction of our marine environment.

Oregonians are a lot more intelligent. They can identify green crabs. In fact, it is illegal in Oregon to release them.

Why on Earth would Washington want to protect the green crab?

In Maine they’re called a most delicious scourge. They figure, if you can’t beat them, eat them. That makes too much sense to ever work here, where they say don’t eat them, we need them for our new grant-funded revenue stream.

Having spent the last 60 years studying green crab, bureaucracies are poised to spring into action and manage them for the benefit of government agencies everywhere.

With any luck at all, they can keep the green crab populations healthy, ensuring sufficient funding to continue studying the problem for another 60 years. It’s the least we can do.


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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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