Friday, January 24, 2020

Mitten Crab Importation Thwarted in Cincinnati

Mitten Crab, showing the mittens
Smugglers tried to bring 3,700 invasive mitten crabs through the Port of Cincinnati
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says its agriculture specialists at the Port of Cincinnati have stopped 51 shipments of invasive mitten crabs from being smuggled into the country over the past four months.

The shipments containing 3,700 of the live crabs weighed about 3,400 pounds, originated in China and Hong Kong and were destined for businesses and homes in multiple states – mostly New York, a CBP press release said.

Nationwide, CBP agriculture specialists and others have refused entry to more than 15,000 mitten crabs since September.

The Port of Cincinnati stopped the largest number of the palmed-sized crustaceans with furry claws, CBP said. Los Angeles ports of entry ranked second.

All the Port of Cincinnati mitten crab shipments were labeled as tools and clothing, CBP said.

CBP referred them to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors onsite, and the violations are under review. It is illegal to import mitten crabs into the United States without a permit, CBP said.

Mitten crabs are a delicacy in Asia and sell for about $50 each in the United States, CBP said.
Mitten Crabs dressed up for dinner
Dang! We only get about $100 a bushel for the Chesapeake Bays Blue Crabs. Maybe we could get the Mitten Crab going here and sell them to the Asian market at half the price!
But mitten crabs can harm the ecosystem and are included in the Invasive Species Specialist Group’s list of “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.”

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center says mitten crabs compete with native crustaceans for food and space, interfere with commercial fishing by eating bait and damaging traps and undermine banks along waterways, levees and dikes with their burrowing.
OK, so maybe it's not a good idea.

As noted in the article, a few Mitten Crabs have been previously been found in Chesapeake Bay as far back as 2007, but they do not appear to have become established. For invasive species, there are at least two hurdles before they become established in a new region. First, and most obviously, they must be introduced in sufficient numbers at the same time for a viable breeding population to grow. We don't know whether that has happened yet, as only a very few crabs have been found, and while it's unlikely all were caught simultaneously, crabbing pressure in the Bay region is high enough that were enough present to form a breeding population, they'd probably show up in catches. Second, a the species must land in suitable habitat. Mitten crabs live in a wide range of habitats in Asia, living as adults in fresh or brackish water, and spawning and spending time as juveniles in salt water. It certainly seems that the Bay would have suitable habitat. Maybe all we need is a big enough introduction to get a population started. 3,700 seems like it might be a large enough inoculum.

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em!

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