- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A crab species from China has been discovered in the Patapsco River, prompting fears about the potentially invasive species’ presence in the Chesapeake Bay, state authorities said yesterday.

The crab, a mature male Chinese mitten crab, was collected at the mouth of the Patapsco several weeks ago by a commercial waterman using crab pots. The species, scientific name Eriocheir sinensis, is considered a potentially invasive species, said the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

“This is the first confirmed recorded case for the Chesapeake Bay,” said Lynn Fegley, an agency biologist. “Only a single animal has been captured in the Chesapeake Bay, and at this point it appears to be an isolated occurrence. As with all invasive species, DNR and its partners are carefully monitoring the situation.”

Chinese mitten crabs can live in freshwater and saltwater. A prolific invader, mitten crabs play havoc with shore-based fisheries by overwhelming nets. They also dig tunnels deep into fragile riverbanks, accelerating erosion. The crab is a delicacy in China, prized for aphrodisiac qualities of the female crab’s ovaries.

Named for the dense patch of dark hair on some of the crabs’ claws, mitten crabs live most of their lives in fresh water but breed in salt water. The crab is listed under the Federal Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to import or export the species without a permit.

Maryland officials along with federal wildlife authorities will investigate the crab’s appearance.

Gregory Ruiz, a marine invasive species specialist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, said there are 150 nonnative species living in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Authorities alerted commercial crabbers and researchers to look for the Chinese crab. They were asked to photograph any Chinese mitten crabs, note the location, and report the find to Maryland officials.

The Chinese mitten crab already found has been given to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, where biologists will try to learn from where it came. It will be preserved and entered into the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian researchers said the crab may have come as a seafood import or from commercial shipping near the Baltimore Harbor.

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