BOW, Wash. — An invasive crab is stirring up concerns for Washington's salmon and shellfish. The European green crab is one of the most aggressive marine creatures on the planet.
The European green crab is an "efficient predator," according to Sea Grant Washington, and poses a major threat to fishing and shellfish industries in the Pacific Northwest.
The population is spreading rapidly in Washington state and the race is on to eradicate them before they pinch the state's economy.
The crabs have invaded the Lummi Indian reservation, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties the hardest, but now they're being found in Skagit County's Samish Bay.
That's where a fishing crew from Taylor Shellfish is fishing for the crabs, but this "catch of the day" is something nobody wants.
"It's pretty scary. That's my livelihood out there," said fisherman Andy Dewey. "A lot of jobs depend on this."
The invasive species is spreading through Washington waters. As of Oct. 31, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) aquatic invasive species staff, shellfish growers, tribes and other state agencies have removed 247,897 European green crabs from Washington waters this year, including about 78,800 crabs from its Salish Sea Management Branch, according to WDFW.
"It's a trend we don't want to see," said Dewey. "It's getting worse."
The European green crabs damage salmon spawning habitats. They devour local Dungeness crabs, as well as clams. One study found a single crab can eat up to 22 clams in a single day.
That's what the fishing crew uses as bait in the traps they toss in the bay.
Capturing the crabs brings mixed feelings on the water.
"It feels good and bad," said Dewey. "It's not good to find them, but it feels good to be getting rid of them."
Shellfish are a $270 million-a-year industry in Washington, supporting about 3,200 jobs. Catching the crabs before the situation grows completely out of control is critical.
The softshell crab industry in Maine has been seriously impacted by hungry European crabs.
In Samish Bay alone, shellfish generate 70 full-time jobs, $2 million in payroll and $9 million in sales.
The situation grew so serious in 2021 Gov. Jay Inslee enacted an emergency order to address the European green crab problem.
In less than an hour, the four-man crew in Samish Bay catch about a dozen green crabs.
They are sent to the University of Washington for analysis.
It's the last bunch until spring when the traps will be set again.
"Maybe if we focus on trapping them we can get them down below a reproducing population and stem the impact here," said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish.
But this catch of the day is elusive, and the fishermen are far outnumbered.
"It's kind of a lost cause to think we're gonna stop them," said Andy Dewey, "but we can slow them down by getting on it as quickly as we can."