Rivermen Find a Chinese Mitten Crab in the Hudson
6/3 - Nyack, HRM 27: When Mike Frank hauled Captain Bob Gabrielson's crab pot over the gunnel of their boat near the Tappan Zee Bridge, he knew they had caught something different. Among the dozen blue crabs was an alien, an adult male Chinese mitten crab. The mitten crab, so-called for what appear to be furry mittens on its claws, was the same size as the number one jimmy crabs in the trap.
- Tom Lake
[The Chinese mitten crab is native to estuaries of China where it is highly regarded in the market. Mitten crabs are catadromous, meaning that they spend much of their life in freshwater, then return to higher salinities in the lower estuary (15-20 parts per thousand salt) to reproduce. The salinity gradients of east coast estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and Hudson River are nearly ideal for them. Adult mitten crabs have a carapace width of about 3", but their legs are almost twice that length, giving them a spider crab look.
Unlike the native blue crab, mitten crabs are burrowing crabs, similar to our mud crabs only many times larger. They have a generalist diet, and their potential ecological impact on east coast estuaries is still unknown.
The Chinese mitten crab was inadvertently introduced to Europe in the 1930s and is now widespread. The first U.S. specimen was caught in San Francisco Bay in 1993, though it may have been there earlier. The species appeared on the Atlantic coast in Chesapeake Bay in 2005. One more followed in 2006, and another this year. Already, 4 mitten crabs have been collected from Delaware Bay this year. All 7 of these crabs, like the one from the Hudson, have been males.
The Marine Invasions Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in monitoring their presence.
It is illegal to import mitten crabs into the United States, but there is genetic evidence that the east coast mitten crabs arrived here from Europe via commercial traffic, much like zebra mussel did.
If you encounter a mitten crab in New York State, please notify Leslie Surprenant, NYSDEC Invasive Species Management Coordinator at (518) 402-8980 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Also notify Carin D. Ferrante, Smithsonian Mitten Crab Coordinator email@example.com. Do not release them alive! If you have a camera, take both dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) views so we can determine its sex. Tom Lake.]