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February 11, 2014

Clammers, officials discuss solutions for devastating green crabs

IPSWICH — They’ve been in the ocean here since the late 1800s, but there is a growing concern about the continued invasion of green crabs and their impact on the region’s clamming industry.

“Green crab will eat about anything, especially juvenile shellfish,” said Scott LaPreste, Ipswich’s shellfish constable. “It is our biggest shellfish issue right now,” he said.

About 40 state officials, clammers and town officials from across the region, including Gloucester, Essex, Rowley and Newburyport, gathered last night at Ipswich Town Hall to devise solutions to combat the invasive species. Suggested solutions included seeking state grants, discussing ways to control the species’ population and finding a market for the crabs.

LaPreste said Ipswich is responsible for about 30 percent of the state’s clamming industry and typically brings in between $5 million and $10 million per year. Concerns about diminishing clam numbers exist across the East Coast, especially in Maine, he said. There has been about a 30 percent decline statewide in the past 14 years, according to state officials.

LaPreste said right now there is only a small market for green crabs for bait, though there are talks about finding a better way to market the crabs for other uses. He said there have been no consistent efforts to control the green crabs since the 1960s or ’70s, and milder ocean temperatures are seen as reasons for a possible increase in the crabs.

Steve and Brenda Turner of Ipswich have owned a commercial shellfish operation since 2007. Steve Turner said they previously had harvested their limit of 180 pounds in two hours, but now, they are lucky to get 120 pounds in three hours.

“We would go out two hours before low tide and find plenty of mussels,” Steve Turner said. “Now, they are dissipated.”

Jack Grundstrom, a Rowley shellfish commissioner, said the reason for the meeting was to ask, “Where do we go from here?” He suggested the need to possibly get the green crabs into the food market to control the invasion. He said it has been looked into by some in the industry, and there has been some positive reaction.

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