Jan/Feb European green crab updates
More than 285,000 invasive European green crabs were removed from Washington waters in 2022 by WDFW, tribes, shellfish growers, and other agencies and partner organizations. WDFW has ramped up community and partner outreach, and preparations for the 2023 field season are underway.
The following highlights are excerpted from our January/February European Green Crab Public Update.
European Green Crab (EGC) Incident Command objectives continue to include reduction of EGC populations to below levels harmful to environmental, economic, or cultural resources.
This report summarizes EGC captures, monitoring, and other emergency measures from January 2023, as well as field and partner highlights from January and February.
Many shore-based EGC trapping efforts have not begun for the 2023 season due to safety concerns from shortened daylight hours, difficulty in tidal timing, and hazardous intertidal and weather conditions. WDFW will soon begin the process of hiring seasonal technical staff to increase trapping capacity for the 2023 season. Read on for additional updates and highlights.
2022 European Green Crab Revised Capture/Removal Totals
Total 285,285 green crabs removed in calendar year 2022.
Coastal Management Branch 204,274 (revised from 205,321)
Salish Sea Management Branch 81,011
Partner Highlight: Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe continues trapping in Sequim and Discovery Bays
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has been hard at work trapping to look for European green crabs (EGC) in the marshes of Sequim Bay, near Blyn on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, since 2017. That year, EGC were found for the first time at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge just to the west of Sequim Bay.
Neil Harrington, Environmental Biologist for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, remembers thinking, “The refuge has the refuge to deal with, what else is out there? Are they in Sequim Bay, too?”
“We have done a lot of restoration work in Sequim Bay,” said Harrington, “and we don’t want to see this habitat degraded by EGC. When they were found out at Dungeness (National Wildlife Refuge), we got really nervous.”
In 2017, Harrington and his team set 372 traps in the marshes at the south end of Sequim Bay adjacent to the Tribe’s oyster farm and tribal center. They caught one female EGC. One crab may seem insignificant, but EGC numbers can quickly increase. In 2019, 176 EGC were trapped in Willapa Bay. By 2021, that number rose to more than 10,000.
Despite several shallow lagoons and creek mouth “pocket estuaries” that provide the sheltered habitat EGC often prefer, the numbers in Sequim Bay have so far remained relatively low, peaking in 2021 with 16 EGC and coming down in 2022 to just two crabs caught.
“We’re hoping the numbers stay low,” Harrington said, “low enough that the crabs don’t impact the ecosystem.”
Though Sequim Bay has been their focus, the Tribe has also started trapping in Discovery Bay. In collaboration with WDFW staff, Harrington and his team trapped heavily in Discovery Bay in 2022. Initially, they found just one crab. After setting more than 500 more traps, they found a total of 75 EGC in Discovery Bay, a larger catch than in Sequim Bay and cause for concern and continued attention this year. Washington Sea Grant’s Crab Team also operates a monitoring site in Discovery Bay and provides technical support.
In 2023, Harrington and WDFW plan to trap in Discovery Bay again in hopes of fully assessing the EGC population and getting it under control. This area is part of the EGC Incident Command System (ICS)’s Strait of Juan de Fuca Management Area, within the Salish Sea Branch. It’s also important to prevent further spread of EGC into the North Central Puget Sound Management Area.
“Discovery Bay will likely be a team effort again between the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and WDFW,” says Harrington. “WDFW will hire two technicians based in Port Townsend, which will be a really good thing for the Peninsula.”
Based on experiences monitoring and removing EGC in Sequim Bay, as well as the experiences of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW in nearby areas, Harrington says “it is possible when you get a population low enough, to keep it low. That’s my hope for Discovery Bay.”
When asked what he wants people to know about EGC in waters off the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s lands, Harrington says, “I think we are right on the edge of the invasion. It is possible that we can hold back the tide. Discovery Bay is concerning, but I think with continued trapping it is possible to keep the numbers down.”
More information about the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Natural Resources Department is available on their website.
Field Highlight: WDFW Field Technicians use new technique to monitor for EGC on Hood Canal
Last May, volunteers with Washington Sea Grant’s Crab Team captured the first EGC in Hood Canal at Nick’s Lagoon near Seabeck. This is the furthest south these invasive crabs have been found in the Salish Sea.
Immediately after the detection, WSG and WDFW staff heavily trapped for EGC in the area, removing 14 European green crabs. WSG volunteers and WDFW continued to monitor the site through 2022 and early 2023 and will start up again this spring.
In addition to green crabs, the teams found very sticky mud in and around the lagoon that made it difficult to deploy and retrieve EGC traps, requiring innovative tactics.
“When we’re out trapping the mud is very sticky and you can lose boots or get stuck if you’re not careful,” said WDFW Field Technician Kaitlyn Estep.
WDFW staff returned to Nick’s Lagoon once again in Jan. 2023 to check for EGC and to try a new method for deploying and retrieving traps: inflatable floating docks large enough to carry traps and crew. Luckily, no EGC were caught, and the docks were a “success” according to Estep.
Estep and her fellow Field Technician Rachel Flannery paddled the docks out into the lagoon and used them to carry and collect the traps. The stable docks made the job much easier by allowing the technicians to float above the mud rather than wade through it.
Notably, “no one got stuck in the mud,” said Flannery. This saved the team time and helped to make the trapping day a safer and more efficient experience for all.
WDFW’s European green crab crews, part of the Department’s Aquatic Invasive Species unit, will continue monitoring Hood Canal and many other areas in the Salish Sea and Washington’s coastal bays, working to protect our state’s environmental, economic, and cultural resources.
Letter on EGC and Prohibited invasive species to shellfish shippers, dealers
A letter from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind with the subject “Prohibited Invasive Species regulations and identification for European green crab” was sent to Washington shellfish/shellstock shippers, wholesalers, and dealers as a follow-up to the December incident involving EGC confiscated from a Seattle market. The letter is available at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2023-02/egc-letter-prohibited-invasive-species-regs-feb-2023.pdf
EGC Hub Microsite
WDFW is developing an online data reporting application and EGC Hub “microsite” with Esri contractor. The data reporting application seeks to streamline EGC data acquisition and management actions. The EGC Hub will have both internal and external interfaces and functions for partners and the public, including data submission, operations support, public awareness resources, story maps, and a map showing EGC detections and management efforts in Washington.
Co-managers and partners interested in using the apps and accessing the collaborative management side of the Hub are encouraged to reach out to the EGC Team at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Communications, outreach, and community events
WDFW’s European Green Crab Outreach Specialist Jessica Ostfeld continued ramping up public engagement and community outreach efforts, coordinating with the Public Information Officer (Chase Gunnell) and ICS/AIS staff to support EGC awareness, education, reporting and events.
WDFW AIS and Communications staff tabled at Storming the Sound in La Conner on Jan. 19, Illuminight at Skagit River Walk Park on Jan. 27, and the Seattle Boat Show at Lumen Field Event Center Feb. 3–11. Staff talked with more than 900 people about EGC, passing out signs, fliers, and other outreach materials. EGC reporting signs were also distributed to industry and attendees.
WDFW provided an EGC Public Update Webinar during Washington Invasive Species Awareness Week on Feb. 21, coordinated by the Recreation and Conservation Office. A recording of the webinar will be posted to the European green crab YouTube playlist.
WDFW deployed new outreach materials for 2023, including an EGC identification graphic, identification outreach sign, plain language talking points, and partner recognition sign. Signs, outreach materials, and other resources were shared with county conservation districts, tribes, marinas, boat launches and water access areas, shellfish growers, and other partner groups. More than 1,000 stickers and 150 reporting signs were distributed in January and February.
Please contact WDFW’s EGC Outreach Specialist email@example.com to request signs, stickers, or materials, or to request attendance at events or outreach opportunities. Copies are available at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/invasive/carcinus-maenas#resources
Co-manager and partner coordination
On Jan. 24, Washington Sea Grant hosted the EGC Trapper’s Summit at Suquamish Clearwater Casino. The summit focused on co-managers and partners that actively trapped EGC in 2022. At the summit, participants had the opportunity to share observations, learn what other trappers saw in 2022 and are planning for 2023, collaboratively explore the data that trappers have been individually pulling together, build on each other’s technical knowledge of trapping, and identify questions and priorities that might help inform future trapping efforts.
WDFW hosted the annual Washington EGC Co-Managers and Partners Meeting on February 1, 2023. Participants could join an in-person meeting at the Lacey Community Center or online. Presentations were given on the status of EGC in Washington state, management plans for 2023, communications and outreach efforts by WDFW, and permitting processes and requirements.
Public Reporting and Crab Identification
WDFW continues to receive reports from the public of native crab species misidentified for invasive European green crabs. While we appreciate the public interest in helping to identify invasive species, these incidents are examples of why WDFW calls on the public to photograph and report suspected green crabs at: wdfw.wa.gov/greencrab, returning the crab in question unharmed to the water where it was found. Most of these native crabs, including Graceful, Kelp, and Hairy shore crabs, are regulated as Unclassified Marine Invertebrates and are illegal to kill, harvest, retain, or possess. If verified as European green crabs, WDFW will follow up with trapping and monitoring if found in a new area.
European green crabs are shore crabs and are found in shallow areas — typically less than 25 feet of water — including estuaries, mudflats, intertidal zones, and beaches. They are not likely to be caught by recreational shrimpers or crabbers operating in deeper water, but may be encountered by beachgoers, waders, clam and oyster harvesters, or those crabbing off docks or piers in shallow areas.
Beachgoers, anglers, recreational crabbers, and others are asked not to tamper with European green crab traps, which are often deployed in shallow areas exposed at low tide and are typically identified with a bright orange buoy and an official tag or permit.
Summary Statement for Background
On January 19, 2022, Washington State Governor Inslee issued Emergency Proclamation 22–02 which ordered the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) “to begin implementation of emergency measures as necessary to effect the eradication of or to prevent the permanent establishment and expansion of European green crab.” This is a statewide proclamation for all marine and estuarine waters of the state that to be effective, will require coordination across state, tribal, and federal jurisdictions. To address this large and complex task, WDFW has implemented an Incident Command System (ICS) structure to facilitate a statewide European green crab (EGC) management strategy. The state Emergency Management Division has assigned this as Mission #22–1085. Since this is a relatively slower-moving emergency (as compared to earthquake or wildfire response), the ICS structure will be used as the overall framework for WDFW communications and coordination.