Putting Mittens on a Crab

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Project Type: 
Extension
Project Number: 
E/HCE-1

Participants:

Mark Wiley N.H. Sea Grant Principal Investigator
Alyson Eberhardt N.H. Sea Grant Extension Specialist for Coastal Habitats
Situation: 
Rarely in the course of a marine infestation in the Northeast has it been possible to act to either prevent a new species from becoming established or to control small, localized populations of non-native, invasive species. Unfortunately, we may have the opportunity with the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, a species that is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list of 100 worst invaders. The Chinese mitten crab is virtually knocking at our door with sightings in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and the Hudson River, including gravid females in the Hudson River. It is deemed a species of concern by the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel (NEANS) and states within the region that have produced identification cards and posters.
 
The Chinese mitten crab is a catadromous species that is native to the Yellow Sea region in China and Korea. Where non-native populations have become established, efforts to eradicate it have failed. This species is reportedly responsible for millions of dollars per year in damages and costly management practices. Although it has not yet been confirmed in the Gulf of Maine (GOM), established populations are thriving in San Francisco Bay and Delta in Northern California, in countries throughout Europe, and in western Asia.
 
Our success in controlling and especially eradicating established invasive non-native species is abysmal. State resource agencies throughout the GOM region must use limited funding wisely, and in many cases they have ceased costly efforts to eradicate well-established non-native species, even those that cause economic damage, because returns on these investments appear to be far too small to make them worthwhile, even though the actual costs of the invasions are not well-documented and generally are expensive, long-term costs. Instead, state and regional priorities have shifted to focus on preventing new introductions and developing rapid response protocols to keep new invaders from becoming established. Both of these priority activities – prevention and rapid response – include education and outreach efforts.
 
Our Northeast Sea Grant College Programs (NESG) have recognized the importance of regional collaboration on outreach and education activities and working with the public to prevent new introductions. With funding from Sea Grant, the NESG jointly developed a regional outreach effort and a web site (http://NEMIS.mit.edu) focused on vectors and prevention and designed to support prevention and control efforts. Despite these efforts, we do not have a Rapid Response Management Plan for Chinese mitten crabs or other emerging ANS threats in the Northeast, nor do we have ongoing outreach programs for K-12 students and teachers, divers, state agency personnel, and enforcement officers, or consistent outreach to fishermen, harbor masters, and recreational boaters.
Goals: 
Given the potential damaging impacts of the Chinese mitten crab, we propose to conduct outreach to develop a plan of action designed to prevent unintentional transport or introductions, and to document and remove any live crabs in the GOM. Our primary goal is to develop a Northeast Chinese mitten crab Rapid Response Management Plan supported by a network of state environmental managers committed to implementing the plan, and an early detection network of citizens and professionals committed to helping observe and report early mitten crab sightings.
Objectives: 
The specific objectives are to:
 
1.     Identify GOM habitat most vulnerable to invasions
 
2.     Engage the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species (NEANS) Panel and appropriate state agency personnel in preparing a rapid response plan focused on the Chinese mitten crab
 
3.     Develop an outreach program that engages five key target audiences in marine invasive species identification training sessions, and in reporting observations that would trigger the rapid response plan. Other organizations in the region, such as Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program and Salem Sound Coastwatch, with whom we frequently collaborate on invasive species issues, are currently running complementary citizen monitoring efforts such as the Marine Invader Monitoring and Information Collaborative (MIMIC, http://www.mass.gov/czm/invasives/monitor/mimic.htm). We would work with these groups to coordinate citizen outreach trainings in the areas where they operate, with the understanding that they are focused on observing presence and absence of a wider range of established and emerging ANS species threats, rather than generating data specifically to aid early detection and rapid response to Chinese mitten crab invasions.
Accomplishments: 

2015

N.H. Sea Grant leads efforts to prevent spread of the invasive Chinese mitten crab

N.H. Sea Grant, in concert with the Maine and MIT Sea Grant Programs, are working with local, state, regional and federal stakeholders to create an early detection network and a rapid response plan to prevent introduction of the invasive Chinese mitten crab into the Gulf of Maine.
Relevance: Preventing new invasive species from becoming established in marine waters has long been a challenge, and the difficulty and cost of eradicating established nonnative species is well documented. While populations of the invasive Chinese mitten crab have not yet been documented in the Gulf of Maine, it has been advancing steadily toward our coastal waters.
Response: N.H. Sea Grant is working regionally with the Maine and MIT Sea Grant programs to prevent the establishment of the Chinese mitten crab in the Gulf of Maine.
Results: In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant engaged 300 key stakeholders, including state agencies, harbormasters, aquaculturists, commercial fisherman and citizen scientists, in meetings, workshops and conferences as part of an early detection network, resulting in a total of over 1600 stakeholders reached since the start of the project in 2013. N.H. Sea Grant's outreach efforts included presentations on Chinese mitten crab life history, threats, identification and actions to take should a mitten crab be detected, a juvenile and adult voucher specimen, and distribution of a waterproof mitten crab watch card prepared by Sea Grant. N.H. Sea Grant oversaw the development of a regional rapid response plan that underwent review by 10 mitten crab and aquatic invasive species experts from the U.S. and Canada. The rapid response plan will be distributed to government agencies and organizations charged with invasive species detection and response throughout the northeast U.S. and eastern Canada to raise awareness and try to prevent the spread of this invasive to the Northeast.

2014

NHSG establishes an early detection network for the invasive Chinese mitten crab
N.H. Sea Grant is working regionally with the Maine and MIT Sea Grant programs to prevent the establishment of the Chinese mitten crab in the Gulf of Maine. In 2014, Sea Grant engaged over 1,300 key stakeholders, including state agencies, harbormasters, aquaculturists, commercial fisherman and citizen scientists in meetings, workshops and conferences as part of an early detection network. Outreach tools developed by Sea Grant during the year included presentations on Chinese mitten crab life history, threats, identification and actions to take should one be detected, a waterproof watch card for use in the field, a slide deck of PowerPoint slides for presentations, and a juvenile and adult voucher specimen. A rapid response plan was also drafted and is currently under review.

2013

N.H. Sea Grant and others seek to prevent Chinese mitten crab invasion
The Chinese mitten crab, native to East Asia, was first identified on the east coast in Chesapeake Bay crab pots in 2005. By 2012, a specimen had been found in Connecticut and resource managers are concerned that it will spread to the Gulf of Maine in the near future. N.H. Sea Grant is working locally with N.H. Fish and Game and regionally with the Maine and MIT Sea Grant programs on a multi-year project to prevent the establishment of this invader in the Gulf. During 2013, N.H. Sea Grant led the development of a regional early detection network and rapid response plan to prevent the introduction and spread of mitten crabs. The effort included planning meetings with MIT and Maine Sea Grant partners, meetings with state and federal agency staff to develop rapid response protocols and identify appropriate audiences for outreach activities, research in the peer-reviewed and other literature, and conference calls with scientists and natural resource managers in areas where the mitten crab has already invaded (e.g., Delaware Bay, Hudson River, San Francisco Bay, St Lawrence River). Initial outreach presentations have been delivered to state professionals (N.H. Department of Environmental Services Watershed Management Bureau) and citizen scientists (N.H. River Runners).

Website developed to help prevent spread of Chinese mitten crab
Working with the Maine and MIT Sea Grant programs in 2013, N.H. Sea Grant created a website focused on the effort to prevent the spread of the Chinese mitten crab into the Gulf of Maine. The website currently provides information about the project and contact information for questions or comments. The site will eventually serve as a repository for the products developed for this project, including outreach materials and the rapid response plan.

Publications

Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Brochure

  • Mitten crab watch card (2014)

Poster

  • A regional approach to preventing the invasion of the Chinese mitten crab in the Gulf of Maine (2013). Alyson Eberhardt, Beth Bisson and Judith Pederson.