This is a guest post by Chantal Jennings, a Gouldsboro Shore volunteer who lives and traps green crabs in Bunkers Harbor.
The European green crab, also known as shore crab or Joe rocker, was first discovered in East Coast shallow waters in 1817. As its name indicates, the green crab came from Europe either in the ballast of ships or on hull fouling. They are extremely invasive and terribly destructive to shellfish, crustaceans, and seaweed.
Green crabs are adaptable, opportunistic, aggressive, and have few natural predators. Warmer water temperatures, as a result of global warming, have allowed them to move farther north. They grow rapidly and have a voracious appetite. Green crabs are now well established along the Downeast coast, where they have discovered Maine’s delicious soft-shell clams. Even tiny green crabs will eat the smallest clams.
Local volunteers, using small wire cages, are catching green crabs. The traps, baited with dead crabs, pig hide, herring, discarded chicken bones, or punctured cans of sardines, are set close to shore and among seaweed in various Gouldsboro bays and harbors to study the crab density and their impact on the local fisheries. The large male green crabs are returned to the water since they are cannibals and will eat the smaller crabs. Females and the smaller crabs are used in recipes or destroyed and used as compost.
The volunteers are also trying recipes others have published and are creating their own, hoping to make the green crabs a viable source of protein in this country. The volunteers’ recipes include broth that can be used in seafood chowders and stews, fried small crabs, and cooked, picked out of the shell crab meat to be used in crab salads. Another use for the crabs is as an additive to garden compost. The dead crabs break down when covered with seaweed, making a nutrient-rich compost.
As much as the volunteers would like to eradicate the green crab population so that the crustacean and shellfish industry can be revived, we now realize that it would take an army of “crab hunters” setting and monitoring their traps daily. Right now, we are just hoping to learn more about the crabs in Maine waters and what we can do to protect the small clams until they are large enough to “stand up” to the green crab’s strong claws.