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Invasive green crabs affecting coastal environment in Coos Bay

Liane Oneill/ Oregon Department of State Lands

An invasive species of crab is taking over the coastal habitats of Coos Bay. The overpopulation of green crab has serious ecological consequences for other species, such as the native Dungeness crab.

The population of green crabs in Coos Bay has been rising ever since strong ocean currents have been bringing more crab larvae north from San Francisco. This began with the weather pattern El Nino in 2016.

Green crabs are an invasive species that eat eelgrass, an important seagrass that provides shelter and food to many species. They also take over habitat used by young Dungeness crabs and leave them vulnerable to predators.

Shon Schooler is the lead scientist at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. He says green crabs will eat pretty much anything that they can find.

“We know from studies on the East Coast that they’ll eat bivalves or shellfish,” says Schooler. “In fact, they destroyed the softshell clam industry up in Maine on the East Coast simply by eating too many of them.”

Researchers in Coos Bay are asking people to catch green crab, in order to control their population. They have even released a culinary guide to eating these crustaceans.

“They are delicious crabs, I have heard from many sources,” says Schooler. “But we don't think of them as food out here yet because they are pretty new. So we thought, why not put out a culinary guide this year and suggest, now that the numbers are high enough, that people can go out and capture them themselves and eat them.”

The Coos Bay researchers are trying to get ahead of the green crab problem, especially given the damage the species did on the East Coast.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.