By Pepper Fisher

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — We learned last week that the Lummi Indian Business Council in Bellingham passed a resolution declaring a disaster after more than 70,000 European green crabs, an invasive species, were captured and removed from the Lummi Sea Pond in recent months.

The Tribe cultivates shellfish and salmon in the 750-acre sea pond surrounded by the most productive natural shellfish beds on the reservation. The crabs are a threat to hatchery operations and Tribal shellfish harvests.

The explosion of the green crab population did not happen for lack of effort on the part of the Tribe. The Lummi Nation began trapping and removing European green crab in 2019, after they were found in nearby Drayton Harbor.

The staggering, unprecedented population explosion led Lummi Nation, the Sea Grant Crab Team, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Washington to collaborate on the largest European green crab trapping effort since it was detected in the Western U.S.

We asked Marine Ecologist Emily Grason from Sea Grant how the situation might have gotten so bad at the Lummi site.

“One of the reasons is that the sea pond is an artificial impoundment. So, there’s a wall around the sea pond that creates a different, separate habitat from the surrounding tide lands. And the characteristics of that habitat seem to favor green crab survival and reproduction in a way that’s enabled the population to grow quickly.”

First detected in Washington’s inland waters in 2016, extensive, widespread monitoring projects were launched, including here in Clallam County.

Neil Harrington, Environmental Biologist with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, says this year’s effort in the waters the Tribe manages appear to be relatively manageable.

“We set, I think it’s 753 traps in south Sequim Bay, and caught 16 crab.”

Also of concern in Clallam County is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Grason says this year just 8 green crabs were detected there.

Green crabs are known to be voracious eaters that use their claws to crush up anything that might be edible, often destroying critical habitat for native species.

One thing the experts agree on is that the Lummi situation illustrates what they’ve suspected all along; without continued vigilance, all of western Washington’s shallow coastal waterways are vulnerable to this voracious, non-native species.

“And so, even as we’re learning more, as we’re continuing to trap with local partners and with statewide partners to remove as many green crab as possible, we also know that we have to plan for an increase in those efforts to more effectively control population numbers.”

(Photo: European green crab.)