Invasive 'green crabs' disrupting ecosystems

Climate change creating ideal breeding conditions
Climate change creating ideal breeding conditions
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Climate change creating ideal breeding conditions
Along much of the New England coastline, there is a problem some 200 years in the making. Green crabs have been slowly taking over coastal ecosystems. They’re not hard to find.
“They like to eat a lot and reproduce a lot and take over all the habitat … here’s another one,” as Dr. Gabriela Bradt, fisheries specialist with the University of New Hampshire turns over a rock to reveal another green crab to add to her bucket.

“They cause a lot of damage. We call them ‘ecosystem engineers,’ because they like to dig and like to clip eelgrass, and they like to overeat a lot of shellfish,” said Bradt.

These invasive crabs arrived in New England in the early-1800s, hitching a ride in the ballast water of ships traveling from Europe. It wasn’t until the 1960s, according to Bradt, that people began to notice a potential problem.

“There were warnings. They’re like, ‘You have to keep an eye on these things because if there are any changes in the conditions in the climate – if it gets warmer and you don’t have the longer sort of brutal New England winters — you’re not going to be able to keep these populations in check.’

“I would say for the last 10, 15 years, (the green crab population has) been growing. Because that’s how long the temperatures have been creeping up,” Bradt said.

The changing climate has created the perfect conditions for green crabs to flourish. Left unchecked, they could heavily impact marshland and coastal ecosystems. But there are some creative ways to control their numbers, and we all could be part of the solution.
“I think we really like our seafood. And if you can get over the fact that it is an invasive (species), ‘invasive’ doesn’t mean it’s inedible,” Bradt said.

“I like to compare it (to) rabbit and chicken, with the green crabs being the rabbit. They’re a little bit sweeter, gamier, a little bit more ‘oceany,’ whereas the normal crabs that we eat here, like the Jonah crab or the rock crab, have more of a sweeter, milder flavor.”

These little critters can be used in several ways.

“(Green crabs can be used for) really great bio-compost or a broth or a new seafood product. Perhaps, if policy changes, it could become like a fishery,” Bradt said.

With climate change helping these green crabs increase in numbers, it’s up to people to find more ways to harvest and use them to keep their numbers in check.

“If left unchecked, you might not have any more soft shell clams or very few,” Bradt. “For New England, at least, the loss of shellfish and other kind of seafood would be really awful.”
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