Maryland on Lookout for “Mitten Crabs”

In recent months, the Maryland Department of the Environment has turned its attention to the threat of Chinese Mitten Crabs, an invasive species that has been found in very small numbers in the Chesapeake Bay. In February, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center reported that a fifth mitten crab had been found, alive, in the Chesapeake. It is feared that these crabs could establish themselves in the American Mid-Atlantic and adversely affect the marine ecosystem.

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Chinese Mitten Crabs have already become a problem in Great Britain, where they are “on the verge of taking over” coastal areas. Invasive species can have dramatic ecological and economic consequences, such as the kudzu infestation in the American South, which costs $500 million per year to control, and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, which clog pipes and are estimated to cost as much as $310 million in damages and control.
In a 2003 National Geographic News article, British scientists suggest that the Mitten Crab problem could be mitigated by catching and eating the crabs. This can be a “making lemonade” solution for the British, who do not have any native crab species, but Maryland already has a $33 million industry and a national reputation from its Blue Crabs, which could be threatened by the introduction of Mitten Crabs. In addition, Mitten Crabs are relatively small at 3″ in adult size, have unappetizing, furry claws, and have an unfortunate tendency to build up more mercury and other heavy metals than do other crustaceans.
The Marine Invasions Research Lab is keeping tabs on this and other threats to United States coastal ecosystems.
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