"We think there are real concerns, but part of the problem is we honestly don't know what is going to happen. That's why we established this watch," stated Carin D Ferrante of the Smithsonian Environmental Reasearch Center in Edgewater MD.
The watch inolves what is seen as the most universally feared invasive species to threaten the United States. This past June, Bobby Gabrielson Jr, a commercial crab fisherman, pulled the first confirmed Chinese mitten crab from a trap in the Hudson River in Nyack NY, near the Tappen Zee Bridge. His male crab follows the capture of four in the Deleware Bay last month and three that were discovered in the Chesapeake Bay since 2005. These discoveries have prompted an East Coast-wide alert to both boaters and fishermen for any sightings.
The first North American sighting of the 4 inch wide, hairy clawed crustacean was in the Great Lakes in 1965 when one managed to get itself sucked into an intake pipe on the Detroit River. Since then they have been caught along the Gulf coast, the St Lawrence River, the Columbia River in OR and have established the only US population in the San Francisco Bay estuary in 1992. Now it seems they are illegally moving onto the East Coast.
Experts believe that the crabs may have been introduced either by the aquarium trade, the illegal food market or in the ballast water of ocean going ships. Since they became embedded in the Bay area, their population has exploded. Chinese mitten crabs are catadromous, meaning they live in fresh water but return to salt water to reproduce. In China, they have been known to migrate upstream 800 miles. They are also omnivorous, eating mostly vegatation when they are young and when they age, clams, worms and the eggs of both the threatened sturgeon and salmon.
The illegal population in the Bay area has been studied since it's discovery in an attempt to discover methods to control not only the crabs but the destruction they have created. Their burrows have caused major erosion to riverbanks and man-made levees, they find ways to jam pumping stations and salmon fish diversions and their sharp claws slice easily through commercial fishing nets. California has attempted to halt the introduction of new crabs and prevent the spread of them by making it illegal to possess Chinese mitten crabs in the state and by requiring ships to release their ballast water before they enter the Bay area.
As strange as the little crab looks, in China, their native home, they are considered a delicacy for the dinner plate and sought after medicinally. The eggs from the Chinese mitten crab, which can number from 250,000 to a million are considered an aphrodisiac. If I had a list of what they will eat, consider a delicacy or an aphrodisiac, I might need another hard-drive just to store it in.
The danger presented by this new border invader is very real. Besides the increased river infrastucture inspections that may be needed from their burrow damage, no one is sure yet how or if they will impact the blue crab industry on the East Coast.
"The fact that they will climb over dams, go on shore into people's swimming pools, burrow into banks, we sure as hell don't need them here. I really believe there's not a damn thing in the world we can do about it," said Gabrielson.
Sure there is........... capture the illegals, dump them in a pot and enjoy with your favorite veggies. It sure is cheaper than deporting them.
Special note: All kidding aside, anglers and boaters who encounter a Chinese mitten crab are asked to keep it on ice or frozen and contact either SERC Mitten Crab Hotline at 443-482-2222 or email email@example.com with your information.