Tracking Alaska’s Least Wanted
Jasmine Maurer, invasive species coordinator for the Kachemak Bay Reserve, demonstrates how to set traps for European green crab traps for volunteers.
In July of 2022, the day Jasmine Maurer dreaded finally arrived. As invasive species coordinator for Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve, she’d been tracking the progress of the European green crab up the Pacific Coast since 2019. Then it was spotted by the Metlakatla Indian Community’s Department of Fish and Wildlife on Annette Island.
“These crabs are voracious predators with the potential to cause great economic and environmental harm whenever they come to a new area,” says Maurer. “Here in Alaska, they pose a serious threat to our native crabs and also impact our already stressed shellfish and salmon fisheries.”
Once established, European green crabs are extremely difficult or impossible to remove. The key, according to Maurer, is early detection and rapid response. That’s why the Reserve and other partners of the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership teamed up: to prepare for the crab’s inevitable arrival with a rapid response plan and create a blueprint for a collaborative response to other invasive species that threaten Alaska resources with economic and cultural value.
“Green crab larvae drift on ocean currents, and we know we won’t get them all,” says Maurer. “Alaska is a big state with a small population and covering it is a huge task. Through the Partnership, we hope to track the places communities care about and radiate from there.”
To better understand its role in responding to this threat, the Kachemak Bay Reserve supported a 2023 workshop and scenario-based drill that explored how each organization in the partnership would respond to the crab’s arrival. Educating community members about how to identify the crabs is a significant part of the Reserve’s role.
“Our invasive species monitoring program aims to determine which species are most likely to come to our area and where they are likely to settle,” says Maurer. “For green crabs, we train volunteers to set and monitor traps, look out for green crab molts on coastal walks, and participate in community events.”
Maurer and her colleagues will continue to work with partners in Alaska and the Reserve System to enhance their capacity to detect and respond to the invasive green crab in the future.
“We have a grant from the NERRS Science Collaborative to work with Padilla Bay Reserve and the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team to better understand how they are tracking and managing this threat,” she says. “It’s such a boon for our Reserve and Alaska to be able to draw on expertise and knowledge from the lower 48.”