The aquatic invaders

Kevin Curley
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Concerns growing over green crab in Placentia Bay

It was a summer tradition growing up in Spencer’s Cove for Angela Gale to walk along the beach flipping rocks and collecting crabs in a bucket.

Mervin Hollett stands next to the invasive species board on the wharf at Arnold’s Cove. He says the fishermen in Arnold’s Cove are starting to worry about the effect green crab are having on their stocks. — Photo by Kevin Curley/The Packet

When her own children got to be preteens, they continued this tradition as part of cabin life in Arnold’s Cove, and a decade later, her nieces and nephews do the same.

But there is something different about the crabs the kids have brought up to the cabins in the last few years. They are green, ugly and far more aggressive than the red crabs that once littered the beaches of Placentia Bay.

“When the little children bring up their buckets, it’s all green crab. We started seeing it coming a few years back, but last year we noticed they’re all green,” says Gale.

The European green crabs have forced all the red crabs away from the beaches. They were first discovered in Placentia Bay in 2007 and are thought to have arrived by hitching a ride in the ballast water of large ships sailing past Newfoundland.

Often called the cockroach of the sea, the green crab have been named as one of the hundred worst invasive species on the global invasive species database.

They eat clams, mussels, oysters and small lobsters. They chop down eelgrass where fish and lobsters spawn. And they multiply quickly.

The green crab have given anyone who fishes in Placentia Bay plenty of cause for concern.

Mervin Hollett fishes lobsters, scallops, cod and crab in the waters of Placentia Bay out of Arnold’s Cove, and says the fishermen in the area are starting to worry.

“There is a lot of green crab around now. I’m concerned as one fisherman, for sure. I’m wondering if they’ve been causing some trouble with our lobster fishery in the last few years,” says Hollett.

The green crab are known to eat the bait off of lobster traps. They will also eat lobsters when they molt; a lobster unprotected by its shell makes an easy target for the crab.

Hollett says they also damage the scallop supplies. He has noticed the crab are getting more and more plentiful every year.

“We get them in the lobster traps. They are even in deep water. At one time we would only see a few in really shallow water, but now we are starting to get them in waters as deep as five or six fathoms,” says Hollett.

Hollett says he does a lobster survey with the union and this year they will be issuing a green crab trap to see how many of them are in the area.

Similar traps have been laid in North Harbour in the past.

“I think the green crab is really going to hurt our lobster and scallop stocks in a bad way in the near future. Our lobster landings have decreased dramatically. We had a good lobster fishery in Placentia Bay for years, but now we’ve got less traps and less people at it and there is no lobster,” he says.

Hollett says it well past time for some action to be taken.

“I think it’s getting time now that someone has to do something about it. If you go out on the wharf and throw a bit of bait out, they’ll swarm it in a matter of minutes. I really think they are going to do a bad job on our stocks. I’m not sure what (can be done). It seems like they are so plentiful,” says Hollett.

Oakley Johnston has 50 years’ experience fishing out of North Harbour.

He says the infestation of green crab is out of control and inaction after the initial discovery has made the situation worse.

“When we found the first green crab was there, (the government) could have made an effort to keep them under control. You would never catch them all, it’s impossible, but you could have kept them under control. They left them alone for years and didn’t do anything with them,” says Johnston.

Now green crab are everywhere.

Johnston and few friends used to take a 20-foot speedboat and tow a couple of small dregs in shallow water out of North Harbour to fish scallops and make a few extra dollars. They would throw back any scallops smaller than three inches.

In the areas where they used to throw back scallops, there are no scallops. They are hauling up small empty shells.

“The green crab comes across them, waits for the scallop to open to breathe, then sticks the claw in, drowns them and eats the meat,” he says.

At one time, the waters in the bay in North Harbour were covered in helpful eelgrass; a haven for red crab, scallops, cod and other marine life.

When green crab moves into an area the eelgrass is the first thing they go for, eating the roots so it won’t regrow.

“If they were eating the stocks, it would grow back. It used to be there was so much eelgrass you didn’t know what was under it. You couldn’t see the bottom. Now there is not one blade,” said Johnston.

Four years ago, he worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to catch green crab in the area. They caught thousands, but Johnston feels it didn’t even put a dent in the problem.

He says studies on their numbers and sporadic attempts to catch the crab are of no help.

“There is no need for survey work. We know the bloody things are there. There are thousands and they are out of control. It might be too late to do anything unless they are really going to put a big effort into it, really go after it and be serious about it, not go out for three weeks, run out of money and say that’s it for this year. That’s not going to cut it,” he says.

In parts of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, DFO has started to issue nuisance species licences for green crab. The “trap and destroy” licences are issued in an effort to protect stocks while eradicating the invasive crustaceans.

Johnson thinks this method could work in Placentia Bay, but he says it might be difficult to figure out payment.

“If you could set a price by pound someone could make a living, but once they got scarce you couldn’t pay for bait and fuel, same as a commercial fishery.

“If the federal government has money to spend, this is how they are going to have to spend it,” says Johnson.

 

In The Weekend Edition:

the FFAW and DFO’s possible solutions to help curb infestation of green crab.

 

 

 

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Placentia Bay, North Harbour, Prince Edward Island Nova Scotia

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