Washington wildlife officials are sounding the alarm after an infestation of European green crab detected in 2019 at Lummi Island ballooned from 2,600 captured green crabs in 2020 to more than 86,000 in 2021.
“We want to prevent that explosive growth,” said Chase Gunnell, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson.
The European green crab is considered one of the world’s worst invasive species for how it feeds on shellfish such as clams, mussels, young oysters, small fish and even young Dungeness crab.
They can destroy marsh habitats by burrowing into the mud, obliterating eelgrass beds and disrupting critical habitats for juvenile salmon, herring and other animals.
In May, the first European green crab was captured in Hood Canal, the farthest south the invasive species has been found in the Salish Sea. It likely arrived there last year, based on its size, officials said.
Fish and Wildlife will now increase trapping in the area to “control these invasive crabs and prevent them from harming environmental, economic and cultural resources,” said Allen Pleus, aquatic invasive species policy coordinator and incident commander for Washington’s European green crab emergency.
The invasive species “poses a threat to Washington’s economic, environmental and cultural resources,” Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement earlier this year.
In January, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation, requesting $8.5 million in emergency funding from the state Legislature to significantly ramp up monitoring and trapping efforts. Inslee and the Lummi Nation have declared it a disaster. The Legislature agreed and approved the money.
“We are working on next steps in coordination with tribal co-managers, other management partners and stakeholders,” Pleus said earlier this year.
The focus remains on controlling the crabs at Lummi from spreading, Gunnell said.
“We don’t want it to create larger outbreaks,” he said.
The nearest confirmed sightings are in Padilla Bay in Skagit County and on the west side of Whidbey Island, according to Washington Sea Grant, which is helping monitor the species. The group, based at the University of Washington, provides statewide research, outreach and education services.
Wildlife officials are asking beachgoers to keep an eye out for the invaders. They ask that people take a picture of a suspected European green crab or a shell and send it in using invasivespecies.wa.gov or the state’s WA Invasives app.
“Right now, we are not asking people to kill suspected green crabs because of how many times we’ve seen native shore crabs killed by mistake,” Grunnell said. “That could change in the future.”
A large European green crab can be green, yellow or orange in color. The best method for distinguishing a green crab is by counting the five “teeth” on either edge of their shell, officials said.
“It’s important to be extra vigilant,” Grunnell said. “This is a high priority to get out ahead of this.”