PAT NEAL: The green crab crisis

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The green crab crisis reared its ugly head.

Native to the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, the green crab has migrated around the world in the bilge water of ship hulls, earning the title of being among the 100 world’s worst alien invasive species.

The green crab was first observed on our Atlantic Coast in Massachusetts in 1817, where it was blamed for wiping out the soft-shell clam industry by the early 1900s.

The green crab was noticed in Willapa Bay in 1961. It was suspected to have arrived in seaweed that lobsters from the East Coast were packed in. By the late 1990s, the green crab was found from California to British Columbia.

Green crabs are trouble.

They dig down 6 inches and eat 40 half-inch clams a day, which is the daily limit of clams humans are allowed.

While they can’t crack open a mature oyster, green crabs can kill the small ones while digging up the eelgrass beds that are critical habitat for our seafood — from salmon to Dungeness Crab.

In 2019, several dozen green crabs were reportedly found in Lummi Bay, in Whatcom County.

In 2022, the Lummi Nation claimed to have trapped 70,000 of them.

In January 2022, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared war on the green crab.

Step one, the state Legislature forked over almost $9 million to fund a committee to study the problem.

Step two made it illegal for people to collect or possess a green crab.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife admitted it was “counterintuitive” to not allow people to collect, remove and eat green crab on their own. They insisted people in Washington are too ignorant to tell the difference between a green crab and a Dungeness crab.

If you gather the wrong, undersized crab out of season, you’ll get a big ticket, but the WDFW doesn’t want to risk it.

Oregonians are a whole lot smarter than Washingtonians. In Oregon, it is illegal to return green crab to Oregon waters. They let you keep 35 a day. Oregon suggests cooking green crab.

In his book, “Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop,” famed ‘60s forager Euell Gibbons declared that in their molting stage, “green crabs are delicious fried, boiled or sauteed, beating any store-bought crab meat claws down.”

Green crab roe is considered gourmet. Green crab are raised on fish farms to feed the demand.

Massachusetts put a bounty on green crab and started fishing them commercially, catching 12,000 tons a year.

Thirty pounds of live green crab ended up in a Seattle market last December, where the WDFW Police confiscated them from the seller who had no idea they were illegal.

Why can’t we harvest and sell Washington green crab to control their numbers? It worked on Dungeness Crab and our other sea creatures.

Why doesn’t Washington let citizens join the war on green crab and supplement our diet with high protein seafood at the same time?

Washington state pays people to catch pike minnows, a native fish, in the Columbia River. One angler made $70,000 fishing them last year.

Fortunately, after the green crab has been here for 60 years, the Washington state co-managers are studying the problem.

The green crab’s days are numbered. Our co-managers have a proven track record of eliminating marine life with the best available science.

Just look at how they managed our steelhead and salmon from an “inexhaustible” resource into endangered species in just a few short years. We’ll thank them later if they do the right thing now.

_________

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 patnealproductions@gmail.com.

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