PHOTOS: ‘One of worst’ invasive crustaceans found on Lower Mainland shoreline

Biologist Lori Schlechtleitner holds a crab native to the Surrey shoreline. (Contributed photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner secures a minnow trap in place in one of the Blackie Spit salt marsh channels Sept. 25. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner waits as Dave Shorter places a Fukui trap in one of the Blackie Spit salt march channels on Sept. 25. The effort is part of an ongoing project to prevent devastation caused by Invasive European Green Crabs, which have been found in the area as recently as mid-September. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Volunteers return to Blackie Spit Sept. 26 to check what was caught. (Contributed photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner (centre) returned to Blackie Spit with volunteers Sept. 26 to check what was caught in the traps that were set the day before. (Contributed photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner retrieves a minnow trap from one of the Blackie Spit channels on Sept. 26. (Contributed photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner (right) and volunteers retrieve data from the Blackie Spit channels on Sept. 26. (Contributed photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner walks in Blackie Spit adjacent to the protected salt marsh where traps were set last week as part of the European Green Crab project. (Contributed photo)
Traps are tagged for identification purposes, in preparation for setting in channels in the Blackie Spit salt marsh Sept. 25. (Tracy Holmes photo)
A Great Blue Heron watches the trapping effort from afar. (Tracy Holmes photo)
A Great Blue Heron watches the trapping effort from afar. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner explains where the traps will be set. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Lori Schlechtleitner carries trapping equipment across the Blackie Spit salt marsh. (Tracy Holmes photo)
The European Green Crab has five spines to the outside of each eye and three bumps in-between its eyes. (www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/ image)

An invasive crustacean described as one of the world’s top-10 unwanted species has made its way to Blackie Spit in South Surrey – as well as other nearby marine habitats – and efforts are underway to curtail its spread.

The European Green Crab “will eat anything that fits in its mouth,” Lori Schlechtleitner – a biologist/ecologist contracted by Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society to set up a local management program – said Sept. 25, during field work in Blackie Spit.

And that non-discriminating palate, along with a high resiliency to water temperatures and salinity and a distinct lack of predators to keep them in check, is bad news for native species.

“You’ve got to respect it for being so incredibly adaptive,” Schlechtleitner said of the spiny crab. “But it does have the potential to decimate.”

The crab, which can range in colour from dark mottled green to orange, is native to European and North African coastlines, and was first found in Canadian waters in 1951. It’s believed they arrived in B.C. between 1998 and 1999.

They are currently found along the entire west coast of Vancouver Island, and have an established population at the southern tip, in Sooke.

Lori Schlechtleitner (left) watches as volunteers check what was caught in the traps that were set Sept. 25. (Contributed photo)

Schlechtleitner said a survey in early September just south of the border found 145 of the invasive crabs, while officials with DFO found “just one or two” in Blackie Spit both last year and last month. She said the reason behind the discrepancy between the two sets of numbers is unclear.

What is clear is that their presence is a problem that can’t be ignored. They have done substantial damage on Canada’s East Coast, she said. Left unchecked here, they will predate everything from oysters to juvenile crabs to eelgrass beds – a critical home for juvenile salmon – and alter the local shoreline ecosystem and habitats.

“On the Pacific Coast, they will brood up and eat the eelgrass beds, which is why we’re really concerned,” Schlechtleitner said.

“Once they start to take a leghold, that’s when the ecosystem might not, unfortunately, make it back.”

Schlechtleitner and volunteer Dave Shorter’s mission on Sept. 25 was to set a dozen traps in two channels that run through Blackie Spit’s protected salt marsh. Baited with cat food and staked 10 metres apart, they were left overnight to see if any of the unwelcome, trapezoid-shaped creatures were present. None were found, Schlechtleitner told Peace Arch News in an emailed update on Sept. 30.

The results were the same for traps set in the Little Campbell River estuary, on Semiahmoo First Nation land, the week prior, as well as for traps set off the base of 64 Avenue on Sept. 29. More traps were set at Delta’s Centennial Beach on Sept. 30.

Dave Shorter and Lori Schlechtleitner prepare bait and tags for traps in Blackie Spit on Sept. 25 as part of the Invasive European Green Crab project. (Tracy Holmes photo)

The four locations were identified by DFO as priority management sites and will remain under close eye “for the foreseeable future,” Schlechtleitner said.

Schlechtleitner, who lives in Vancouver but grew up in Surrey, said for her, the effort is “a passion project.” It’s hoped that community groups will get involved, perhaps by adopting channels to monitor, or walking wrack lines – the line of debris left on the beach by high tide – after trapping season is over, to look for molts on the beaches.

“This is going to be a long-term management process,” Schlechtleitner said.

Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society has committed to the project for the long-term, society president Margaret Cuthbert noted.

Lori Schlechtleitner and Dave Shorter carry trapping equipment towards the Blackie Spit salt marsh. (Tracy Holmes photo)

“Since we have mapped 86 hectares of eelgrass in Boundary Bay and conducted the DFO 3-5 year Shorekeepers (program) for over 15 years, our Marine Coordinator Matt Christensen and our Board of Directors agree we must now focus our volunteer activities and funds to this crucial concern,” Cuthbert told PAN by email.

READ MORE: Grant to aid salmon efforts in Boundary Bay

VIDEO: Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Margaret Cuthbert

The City of White Rock has contributed funding to the effort, Schlechtleitner noted, but more is needed.

The ultimate goal, she said, is for the management efforts to reap only native-species results.

“That’s the goal of this project, is to not find what we’re looking for.”

Volunteers return to Blackie Spit Sept. 26 to check what was caught. (Contributed photo)

Anyone who spots one of the crabs – they measure up to 10 cm across the back shell, and have three bumps between the eyes as well as five “spines” to the outside of each eye – is asked to leave it where it is, but email a photo and details of its exact location (ideally, GPS co-ordinates) and the date it was observed to aispacific@dfo-mpo.gc.ca



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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