Tag Archives: European green crab

2018 Northwest Fish And Wildlife Year In Review, Part III

As 2018 draws to a close, we’re taking our annual look back at some of the biggest fish and wildlife stories the Northwest saw during the past year.

While the fishing and hunting wasn’t all that much to write home about, boy did the critters and critter people ever make headlines!

If it wasn’t the plight of orcas and mountain caribou, it was the fangs of cougars and wolves that were in the news — along with the flight of mountain goats and pangs of grizzly bear restoration.

Then there were the changes at the helms, court battles, legislative battles and more. Earlier we posted events of the first five months of the year, and then June through September. Below we wrap up with October through December.

OCTOBER

Oregon began offering big game preference points instead of just cold, hard cash for those who help state troopers arrest or cite fish and wildlife poachers. The new option in the Turn In a Poacher program awards five points for cases involving bighorns, mountain goats, moose and wolves; four for elk, deer, antelope, mountain lions and bears. While the points all have to go to either elk, buck, antlerless deer, pronghorn or spring black bear series hunts, it significantly raises the odds of being drawn for coveted controlled permits.

OSP SENIOR TROOPER DARIN BEAN POSES WITH THE HEADS OF THREE TROPHY BUCKS POACHED IN THE GREATER SILVER LAKE AREA. (OSP)

The lowest catch station recorded the highest haul when the Columbia-Snake 2018 pikeminnow sport-reward program wrapped up this fall. “It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. With 25,135 turned in there, Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year. Boyer Park produced the second most, 22,950, while usual hot spot The Dalles was third with 22,461, less than half of 2017’s tally.

Using DNA from northern pike, USFS researcher Dr. Kellie Carim turned the widespread assumption about where the fish that have invaded Washington came from on its head. “The history we’ve told ourselves, the simplest explanation, is that the fish are flowing downstream from Western Montana,” Carim told us in early fall. “However, what the genetic analysis says is that those in Lake Roosevelt and the Pend Oreille River are closely related to those in the Couer d’Alene drainage.” In other words, a bucket biologist or biologists drove them between the watersheds. Also on the invasive species front, earlier in the year, scientists began to suspect that Sooke Harbor was not the source of the European green crabs showing up in Puget Sound waters but from somewhere on the Northwest’s outer coast.

SPECIALISTS FROM WASHINGTON SEA GRANT AND THE MAKAH TRIBE CONSIDER WHERE TO SET TRAPS IN AN ESTUARY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS. (WSG)

Oregon and Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commissions were urged not to roll back the Columbia River salmon reforms by no less than the former governor who got the ball rolling. “There’s absolutely no reason to change right now, it makes no sense,” said Oregon’s John Kitzhaber in one of several short videos that came out ahead of indepth reviews for the citizen panels.

IN A NEW VIDEO, FORMER GOVERNOR JOHN KITZHABER URGES VIEWERS TO MAINTAIN THE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON REFORMS.

With salvaging roadkilled deer and elk in Oregon set to begin Jan. 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations for how the program will work. It’s similar to Washington’s, except that antlers and heads must be turned in to any ODFW office (here are addresses and phone numbers of the two dozen across the state) within five business days and Columbian whitetail deer may be salvaged, but only in Douglas County, where the species was declared recovered in 2003.

Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned after a distasteful photo of him with a dead “family of baboons” surfaced following an African safari with his wife. Fischer initially defended his actions, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral.” In accepting Fischer’s requested resignation, Gov. Butch Otter stated, “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

FORMER IDAHO FISH AND GAME COMMISSIONER BLAKE FISCHER OF MERIDIAN RESIGNED AFTER GOVERNOR BUTCH OTTER REQUESTED HE DO SO. (IDFG)

This year’s return of coho to the Columbia River was woeful at best, but there was a glimmer of good news when the Nez Perce announced that the first adult in more than 50 years returned to Northeast Oregon, thanks to a joint tribal-ODFW release of half a million smolts in March 2017. At least 125 had arrived at a weir on the Lostine River as of earlier this month, and tribal fisheries manager Becky Johnson estimated there were 800 more still on their way at that point.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

With small, 2- to 3-inch razor clams dominating the population in Clatsop County’s sands, Oregon shellfish managers with support from the public decided to postpone harvesting any until this coming March, in hopes they would be larger by then. On the north side of the Columbia River, Washington’s Long Beach will only see a limited opener this season due to low salinity levels in winter 2017 that affected survival and led to a higher concentration of small clams.

OREGON SHELLFISH MANAGERS SAY ITS NORTHERN RAZOR CLAM POPULATION IS ON THE SMALL SIDE AND SEASON WAS POSTPONED TILL MARCH. (ODFW)

WDFW’s new Director Kelly Susewind hit the highway, the airwaves and the interweb to flesh out his thinking on hot-button fish and wildlife issues, set the tone for what his priorities are going forward, and listen to the needs of sportsmen and Washington residents. He hosted half a dozen meetings across the state, appeared on TVW’s Inside Olympia and did a webinar as the agency tried to build support for its $67 million ask of the legislature in 2019.

It wasn’t just small clams on the Oregon Coast sparking concerns — low early returns and catches of fall Chinook led ODFW to restrict fishing from the Necanicum to the Siuslaw, closing all the rivers above tidewater and reducing limits in the bays from three to one for the season. When subsequent surveys began to show more fish arriving on the spawning grounds, sections of the lower Siletz then Alsea and Yaquina Rivers were reopened, but further south, it wasn’t until late November before ODFW was able to lift gear restrictions on the low-flowing Chetco and Winchuck Rivers.

NOVEMBER

Western Washington tribes launched an ambitious, coordinated, long-term effort to identify and restore key salmon habitats as well as gauge land-use decisions in the region. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission’s Tribal Habitat Strategy was described by chair Lorraine Loomis as an “effort … based on what we know is actually needed to achieve ecosystem health, not what we think is possible to achieve given current habitat conditions.”

THE COVER OF THE NORTHWEST INDIAN FISHERIES COMMISSION’S NEW “TRIBAL HABITAT STRATEGY” REPORT SHOWS A KITSAP COUNTY CULVERT ON CARPENTER CREEK THAT HAS SINCE BEEN REMOVED, IMPROVING FISH PASSAGE AND ESTUARY FUNCTION. (NWIFC)

Cattle depredations that seemed like they’d never end in Northeast Washington led to essentially three different lethal wolf removal operations ongoing at once, two by WDFW targeting all the remaining OPT wolves and one Smackout Pack member, and one by a producer for any Togo wolves in their private pastures. By year-end at least four wolves had been killed by state shooters in hopes of reducing livestock attacks, and the Capital Press reported at least 31 calves and cows had been confirmed to have been either killed or injured by wolves in 2018, “more than double any previous year.”

LIFE COULD BE WORSE — YOU COULD GROW A BUCK ON YOUR BUTT … OR AT LEAST HAVE A TRAIL CAMERA RECORD SOMETHING ALONG THOSE LINES. THIS UNUSUAL ALIGNMENT WAS RECORDED AT A WASHINGTON WILDLIFE AREA IN THE NORTHEAST CORNER OF THE STATE DURING THE FALL RUT. (WDFW)

Significantly increasing Chinook abundance to help out starving orcas was among the key recommendations Washington’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force voted to forward to Governor Jay Inslee after months of discussion and public comment. Members also urged suspending southern resident killer whale watching for all fleets — commercial, recreational, kayak, rubber dingy, etc., etc., etc. — for the next three to five years. The recommendations were generally supported by sportfishing reps who took part in the task force’s work. “Production needs to be ramped up immediately, and follow the recovery/ESA sidebars in the recommendations,” said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who also expressed concern about “organizations who will file lawsuits to fight increased production no matter how thoughtfully done and no matter how dire the need.”

A PAIR OF SOUTHERN RESIDENT KILLER WHALES SWIM IN INLAND WATERS EARLIER THIS MONTH. (KATY FOSTER/NOAA FISHERIES)

IDFG Director Virgil Moore announced that he was retiring in January after eight years at the helm of Idaho fish and wildlife management and a four-decade-long career in the field, including a year as ODFW’s director. “Working together, Fish and Game and our wildlife resources are in excellent shape and ready to be handed off to new leadership,” he said in a press release. Fellow Fish and Game honcho Ed Schriever was named as Moore’s replacement.

Federal researchers found that one top way to recover Chinook in Puget Sound streams is to restore side channels. Providing space for the young ESA-listed fish to grow as well as shelter from flood flows adds complexity to river systems, increasing its potential value as habitat. The work, some of which was done on the Cedar River, could help answer where and how to get the best bang for restoration dollars. In a related story, for the first time since the project wrapped up in 2014, a pair of kings chose to spawn in a portion of a Seattle stream that had been engineered for salmon to dig redds. “That’s a vote of confidence!” said a utility district biologist.

A SEATTLE PUBLIC UTILITY IMAGE SHOWS A PAIR OF CHINOOK SALMON ON THE GRAVEL OF LOWER THORNTON CREEK, EAST OF NORTHGATE MALL. (SPU)

With the threat of a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted in mid-November to suspend steelhead season in early December. IDFG’s permit to hold the fishery had expired nearly 10 years ago and other priorities had kept NMFS from issuing a new one, providing an opening for yet another low-hanging-fruit lawsuit from the usual suspects. “The loss of that opportunity, even temporarily, due to a lawsuit and unprocessed permit is truly regrettable,” said Virgil Moore in a letter to Idaho steelheaders. The pending closure didn’t affect Washington fishermen angling the shared Snake, and it led one of the six litigant groups to subsequently back out, saying its goal of spurring the feds into action had been achieved. But on the eve of the shutdown, an agreement was reached between a newly formed group of anglers and towns, Idaho River Community Alliance, IDFG and the other five parties. It kept fishing open, closed stretches of the South Fork Clearwater and Salmon, and included voluntary measures.

A LAST-MINUTE AGREEMENT KEPT STEELHEADING OPEN ON THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER AND OTHER IDAHO STREAMS FOLLOWING A THREATENED FEDERAL LAWSUIT OVER A LACK OF A FISHERIES PERMIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The federal Fourth National Climate Assessment, released over Thanksgiving weekend, painted a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest. It projected that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, razor clamming would decline “due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” and that more management to ensure sufficient waterfowl habitat would be needed. The report, required by Congress, did say deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

ODFW launched its new electronic license program, so easy that even hook-and-bullet magazine editors can (eventually) figure it out. Essentially, the app allows sportsmen to carry an e-version of their fishing and hunting licenses on their phones, etc., as well as tag critters and fill in punch cards with an app that works even offline in Oregon’s remote canyons.

In what would also be a continuing news story in the year’s final month, ODFW received federal permission to lethally remove as many as 93 California sea lions annually at Willamette Falls and in the lower Clackamas. “This is good news for the native runs of salmon and steelhead in the Willamette River,” said ODFW’s Dr. Shaun Clements, whose agency had estimated that if nothing were done, there was a 90 percent chance one of the watershed’s wild winter steelhead runs would go extinct. “We did put several years’ effort into non-lethal deterrence, none of which worked. The unfortunate reality is that, if we want to prevent extinction of the steelhead and Chinook, we will have to lethally remove sea lions at this location,” he said in a press release.

And near the end of the month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 196 to 180 to fully delist gray wolves in the Lower 48. But that was as far as the Manage our Wolves Act, co-sponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, was going to get, as at the end of the year it went nowhere in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works and the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee flatly told a reporter that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years. Meanwhile, WDFW and the University of Washington began year three of predator-prey research across the northern tier of Eastern Washington.

A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING FAWN QUARTERS BACK TO A DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

DECEMBER

Poor fishing up and down the West Coast in recent years was among the factors that forced the owners of Ollie Damon’s reel repair shop in Portland to close up for good this month, ending the run of a famed name that first opened for business in the late 1940s. “It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” said Rich and Susan Basch who bought the shop in the 1990s and used to service as many as 5,000 to 6,000 reels annually, and who said that they’ll miss their customers “immensely” as they also retire.

PORTLAND’S OLLIE DAMON’S CLOSEd ITS DOORS DEC. 29, MARKING THE END OF AN ERA. (OLLIE DAMON’S)

We’ll know a lot more about 2019 salmon expectations later in winter, but the year’s first forecasts came out in early December, with Columbia River managers expecting an overall run of 157,500 springers, 35,900 summer kings, and 99,300 of the red salmon, all below 10-year averages but no surprise given recent ocean conditions. The outlook for upriver brights is similar to 2018, with tule Chinook below the 10-year average, but with spring’s offshore survey finding good numbers of young coho in the ocean and a strong jack return to the river this fall, there is some potential good news for silver slayers.

The poaching of one of Oregon’s rare moose north of Enterprise in November led to a handsome reward offer of not only $7,500 at last check but a guided elk hunt on the nearby Krebs Ranch, a $3,500 value in itself. “The poaching of a moose is a tragic thing,” said Jim Akenson of the Oregon Hunters Association, chapters of which stepped up to build the reward fund. “Especially because our moose population is low – fewer than 70 in Oregon.” This is at least the second moose poached in Northeast Oregon in recent years. Thadd J. Nelson was charged in early 2015 with unlawfully killing one in mid-2014. He was later killed by robbers.

OREGON’S MOOSE POPULATION WAS LAST ESTIMATED AT 75 OR SO. (PAT MATTHEWS, ODFW)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted an “unprecedented investment” of $1.1 billion to recover orcas and their key feedstock — Chinook — in his proposed 2019-21 budget. It includes $12 million for WDFW to maximize hatchery production to rear and release an additional 18.6 million salmon smolts, a whopping $205 million boost for DOT to improve fish passage beneath state roads, and $75.7 million to improve the state’s hatcheries (hopefully testing generators more frequently!). Inslee’s budget, which must still be passed by lawmakers, also includes the fee increase but $15 million WDFW asked for for conservation and habitat work was pared down to just $1.3 million for the former.

With the significance of Chinook for orcas in the spotlight of course a mid-December windstorm would knock out power to a state hatchery, and when the backup generator failed to immediately kick in, around 6 million fall and spring fry died. That angered fishermen and killer whale advocates alike, and led to a rare statement by a WDFW director, Kelly Susewind on the “painful loss.” As an outside investigation is launched into what exactly what went wrong, up to 2.75 million fish from a mix of state, tribal and tech college hatcheries were identified as possible replacements, pending buy-in from several more tribes.

SALMON INCUBATION TRAYS AT MINTER CREEK HATCHERY. (WDFW)

Federal, state and tribal officials agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers. The agreement came after early in the year U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered spill to occur and Eastern Washington House of Representatives members tried to kill it. Testing begins this coming April — “It can’t happen soon enough,” said NSIA’s Hamilton.

WDFW’S FIRST KARELIAN BEAR DOG, MISHKA, PASSED AWAY LATE IN THE YEAR. HANDLER “BRUCE (RICHARDS) SAID OF MISHKA THAT WHAT HE ACCOMPLISHED IN ONE YEAR WAS AKIN TO WHAT ONE WILDLIFE OFFICER COULD ACCOMPLISH IN A LIFETIME OF WORK,” BEAR SMART WA POSTED ON INSTAGRAM. THE DUO HAD A LONG CAREER OF CHASING BEARS AND HELPING ON POACHING CASES IN GREATER PUGETROPOLIS. ALSO IN 2018, ANOTHER WDFW KBD DOG, CASH, DIED FOLLOWING A BATTLE AGAINST PROSTRATE CANCER. (WDFW)

And finally, and in probably the best news of the whole damn year — which is why we saved it to last, but also because it happened so late in 2018 — the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act was signed into law by President Trump after zipping through the Senate and House this month. With bipartisan leadership from Northwest lawmakers and support from the DFWs, tribes and fishing community among others, the bill essentially provides up to five one-year permits to kill as many as 920 California sea lions and 249 Steller sea lions in portions of the Columbia River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. Not that that many likely will be taken out, but this should FINALLY help address too many pinnipeds taking too big a bite out of ESA-listed stocks and help keep one of their new favorite targets, sturgeon, from ending up on the list too.

And with that, I’m calling it a year on this three-part year in review — read the first chunk, covering January through May here, and the second, June through September, here.

Take care, and happy new year!

AW
NWS

Large Numbers Of Invasive Crabs Found At Makah Bay, But Lessons Learned Too

Twice as many invasive European green crabs have now been trapped at Makah Bay as first reported earlier this summer, an alarming development but one that’s also providing key insights for the fight to keep the species from spreading into Puget Sound.

SEVERAL DIFFERENT YEAR-CLASSES OF INVASIVE EUROPEAN GREEN CRAB HAVE BEEN FOUND AT MAKAH BAY. (KELLY MARTIN, WASHINGTON SEA GRANT)

Officials from Washington Sea Grant spent three days with tribal managers at the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and called it “an excellent learning experience.”

“Many parts of the Wa’atch and Tsoo-Yess (River) estuaries superficially appear as if they would be primarily freshwater – not saline enough to allow for the survival of organisms such as shore crabs, staghorn sculpins, and green crab. However, in the summer months when there is little rain and therefore little freshwater input in the rivers, these estuaries remain fairly salty due to tidal fluctuations. This gives us a better idea of what kind of sites green crab are able to inhabit which could be useful as we continue to monitor the Salish Sea,” WSG reported in a blog earlier this month.

They’ve already identified dozens upon dozens of sites with high or medium suitability for the crabs but this new finding could help sharpen the search even more.

Between last October and Aug. 7, 782 were captured at Makah Bay. They’re reported to be from multiple year classes and ranged in size from 1 inch to over 3 1/4 inches.

According to a Sea Grant map, specimens have also been found to the east at Dungeness Spit and Discovery Bay on the north Olympic Peninsula; Westcott Bay on San Juan Island; Fidalgo, Padilla and Samish Bay’s in Skagit County; and Lagoon Point on the west side of central Whidbey Island.

Researchers theorize that the inland green crabs are coming from a source population somewhere on the outer coast of Washington, Vancouver Island, Oregon or elsewhere.

They say it’s more likely that “reversal” current conditions pull larvae into the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the Pacific than that juveniles from a population in the Sooke Basin of Vancouver Island have dispersed across the channel.

The Makah colony represents the largest concentration so far found in Northwest Washington waters.

LORENZ SOLLMAN OF THE U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE INSPECTS A TRAP SET OUT TO COLLECT INVASIVE EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS AT DUNGENESS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. (ALLEN PLEUS, WDFW)

The worry is that if green crabs establish a sustaining population in Puget Sound, they could damage eelgrass pastures — so important for our salmonids and other fish — and clam beds.

Efforts to remove them are being led by state, tribal, university and federal agencies. They’re focusing on monitoring bays, estuaries, spits and other water features and rapidly responding to discoveries.

Good, Bad News From Search For Invasive Green Crabs In Straits, Sound

Crews searching for invasive European green crab along Washington’s saltwater shores recently were relieved to find only one during a recent survey at a Whidbey Island site, but it’s a different story at the tip of the North Coast.

EUROPEAN GREEN CRAB COLLECTED AT DUNGENESS NWR IN 2017. (ALLEN PLEUS, WDFW)

Nearly 400 have been found at Neah Bay since last fall, the largest concentration discovered so far on the US side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound.

The unwanted shellfish have also been reported at Dungeness Spit, with 96 collected last year and 42 so far this year, according to a report in the Sequim Gazette, Westcott Bay on San Juan Island, Padilla Bay and southern Sequim Bay.

Efforts to remove the crabs are being led by state, tribal, university and federal agencies.

The worry is that if green crabs establish a sustaining population, they could damage eelgrass pastures — so important for our salmonids and other fish — and clam beds.

Last year, two were found at Lagoon Point on Whidbey, the first inside the mouth of Admiralty Inlet — the primary entrance to the Central and South Sound and numerous potential sites for colonies to take hold — and during a follow-up search last week, a third turned up.

Kelly Martin at Washington Sea Grant blogged that the 57.5mm-long male appeared to be from the same age-class as the two others, and between that and the lack of others found was “a relief.”

“Green crab still have a presence in the lagoon at Lagoon Point, but their population has not exploded since last fall,” Martin wrote, adding that monitoring will continue.

Genetic work suggests that the crabs at Dungeness did not come from Sooke, across the Straits on the southern shore of Vancouver Island, but their larvae drifted in from a source somewhere else on the West Coast.

A WSG map shows dozens upon dozens of locations in Puget Sound and Hood Canal south of Lagoon Point with a high or moderate suitability for the species.

To learn how to spot green crabs and differentiate them from juvenile Dungies and red rocks, as well as find out more about the efforts of WSG’s Crab Team, go here.

More Than A Dozen Invasive Green Crabs Found At Dungeness Spit

As if 2015 didn’t deliver enough devastating consequences for Northwest fish and wildlife, it may also be to blame for more than a dozen invasive crabs discovered in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca this month.

Allen Pleus at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suspects that the 13 European green crabs found at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge since April 12 were rafted across the straits as larvae during that wretchedly hot, drought-stricken, conflagration of a summer, probably from Sooke Harbor, 25 miles to the west-northwest on the south end of Vancouver Island.

EUROPEAN GREEN CRAB. (WASHINGTON SEA GRANT)

What’s worrisome is that this is the largest group found since the first one was discovered in Washington waters late last summer, at Westcott Bay on San Juan Island, and along with others that turned up in a mainland estuary, it is beginning to suggest a potentially widespread invasion by the unwanted species.

The news couldn’t come at a worse time, either.

According to Pleus, state funding for monitoring could dry up after June 30.

And the agency that’s been getting everybody on the same page about the problem, Washington Sea Grant, could be closed down at the end of this month as federal programs are targeted for elimination in national budget proposals.

THE DISCOVERY of the crabs at Dungeness Bay by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was predicted.

A Sea Grant map shows the waters around the spit are one of dozens upon dozens of nearshore habitats with a “high probability” of hosting the crabs that first arrived on the US East Coast in the 1800s and “dramatically” affected the Maine clam harvest and damaged kelp beds from their digging.

A WASHINGTON SEA GRANT GOOGLE MAP SHOWS LOCATIONS NEARSHORE HABITATS IN PUGET SOUND AND THE STRAITS WITH HIGH (RED STAR) AND MEDIUM (ORANGE TRIANGLE) SUITABILITY FOR EUROPEAN GREEN CRABS TO TAKE HOLD. THE WHITE CIRCLE REPRESENTS THE LOCATION OF THE 13 CRABS FOUND THIS MONTH, AT DUNGENESS SPIT. (WSG)

The worry here is what the crabs could do to eelgrass pastures — so important for our salmonids and other fish — and clam beds, if they establish a sustaining population.

That appears to be what has happened in Sooke Harbor, where one was found in 2012.

Dungeness is the third spot in Washington the crabs have been found in just the last eight months.

Not long after the discovery at Westcott Bay, one was literally turned up “by chance” by beach walkers at Padilla Bay in mid-September. Three more were subsequently trapped there.

“While I am pleased that the crabs are not more abundant, it’s somewhat concerning that they are distributed so broadly,” P. Sean McDonald, a research scientist at the University of Washington and affiliated with Washington Sea Grant, told the Skagit Valley Herald last September, adding, “One crab doesn’t scare me. Two crabs really isn’t that bad. What’s scary is large numbers of crabs coming in and settling broadly throughout Puget Sound.”

Asked yesterday how alarming the latest discovery is, Pleus paused, then said it was hard to say.

It doesn’t mean there’s an established population in Washington waters yet, and none of those from Dungeness had eggs.

However, they were a mix of males and females, and it’s only a matter of time until waters warm enough for the spawn to kick off. Getting rid of as many breeders as possible is the key to keeping the crabs in check.

Growing to only about 3 inches across the back, there’s not much meat on them.

AS IT STANDS, Washington Sea Grant director Penny Dalton says that estimates to continue the monitoring program run around $180,000.

Even as her agency is in serious danger of elimination — and in part the subject of a scathing opinion piece in the New York Times today against cuts to it and NOAA’s budget — Dalton’s hopeful money can be cobbled together to keep the program running.

“We’re going to keep trying. We think it is really important. WDFW is too,” she says.

Dalton says WDFW’s Allen Pleus is working the Washington legislature to secure funding for the coming budget biennium.

With a very serious threat looming to the health of Puget Sound, this is no time for state or federal lawmakers to get crabby about funding this work to head off this invasion.