Invasion History

First Non-native North American Tidal Record: 1992
First Non-native West Coast Tidal Record: 1992
First Non-native East/Gulf Coast Tidal Record: 2004

General Invasion History:

The Chinese Mitten Crab, Eriocheir sinensis, is native to China from the Bohai Sea and the southern coast of South Korea, south to Macau, near Hong Kong (Guo et al. 1997). This crab is catadromous, breeding in brackish-to-marine waters in estuaries and coastal waters, and moving upstream as a juvenile to mature in fresh waters, up to 1000 km from the sea. Adult crabs then migrate back to the mouths of estuaries for spawning (Guo et al. 1997; Panning 1939; Rudnick et al. 2000). The estuarine breeding habitat, long planktonic larval stage, wide environmental tolerances, and long-distance migrations of the Chinese Mitten Crab all seem to have contributed to its success as an invader.

Eriocheir sinensis was introduced to Europe, most likely in ballast water, and was first discovered in Germany in 1912. It has spread throughout much of Europe by canals and shipping, ranging from the Atlantic coast of Spain to Sweden and Finland (Herborg et al. 2003). It has appeared sporadically in the Mediterranean, Caspian and White Seas, and is established in the Black Sea (Berger et al. 2002; Galil et al. 2002; Gomiou et al. 2002; Robbins et al. 2006). In North America, it has been collected in the Great Lakes since 1965 (Nepszy and Leach 1973), and since 2004, from the St. Lawrence River (de Lafontaine et al. 2008). In 2005, a Chinese Mitten Crab was caught in Chesapeake Bay. Since then it has been found in the Delaware Bay, coastal bays of New Jersey, and the Hudson River estuary. So far, evidence of breeding (gravid females, juveniles, molts of juveniles) has been found only in the Hudson River- the crabs in other estuaries have all been adults (Ruiz et al. 2006; Schmidt et al. 2009; Ruiz et al. unpublished). On the other side of the continent, E. sinensis was first caught in San Francisco Bay in 1992, and has spread through much of the Bay's watershed, up to 300 km from the Bay itself (Cohen and Carlton 1997; Rudnick et al. 2003).

In North America, vectors have included ballast water from Europe and Asia, and the illegal importation of Mitten Crabs from Asia, where they are a delicacy in Asian immigrant communities. Interceptions of live imported crabs have occured in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle (Cohen and Carlton 1997; Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Ruiz et al. 2006). Releases of uneaten crabs may occur for disposal, or with the intention of establishing populations for harvesting. In 2019-2020, 41 shipments, totaling 3700 crabs and 3400 lbs., were seized in Cincinnati, intnended for shipment to New York and other cities (Houck 2020).

For now, we will treat the Hudson River population as established, and this crab's population status in other East Coast estuaries as 'unknown'. although there have been no records for several years. The latest record that we have for the Hudson River was in 7/18/2014, at Norrie Point, State Park, at Norrie Point State Park/NY/Indian Kill (7/18/2014, Hudson River Alamanac https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/NYSDEC/bulletins/c7a56b, 41.840248 -73.930992). Two specimens were collected in 2012 and 2016 in the Mianus River, Connecticut, a Long Island Sound tributary (Nancy Balcom, personal communcation, 7/22/2016).

North American Invasion History:

Invasion History on the West Coast:

The only known established population of Eriocheir sinensis on the West Coast is from the San Francisco Bay estuary and watershed. Fishermen first reported catching Mitten Crabs in the Bay in 1992. By 1996, they had been collected in the north (San Pablo Bay, Suisun Bay) and south (South Bay) arms of the estuary and their freshwater tributaries (Cohen and Carlton 1997). By 2000, crabs had been collected throughout the Bay, and through much of the lower San Francisco Bay drainage, up to 300 km from tidal waters. Crab burrows in 1999-2000 in South Bay tributaries averaged 20-30 m2, and catches of adult crabs in 1998-2000 reached 100,000-800,000 crabs per year in different regions of the Bay (Rudnick et al. 2003). Variation in abundance of larvae and recruitment of juveniles appears to vary greatly among years, and appears to be most strongly affected by temperature during the spawning season, which occurs in winter (Blumenshine et al. 2011).  A single crab caught in the Columbia River, near Astoria, Oregon, in 1997, was identified as E. japonica (Jensen and Armstrong 2004).  It is now considered to be E. sinensis (Palero et al. 2011).

Mitten Crabs were abundant at the Tracy Fish Collection Facility in Byron, CA every year from 1996 to 2005, but only single individuals were observed in 2006, 2009, and 2010. No crabs have been observed in California since 2010 (Steve Foss, personal communication (3/28/18). The absence of recent records is paralleled both on the East and West Coasts, but it is possible that populations are persisting at low levels of abundance. For now, we will treat the population as established.

Invasion History on the East Coast:

Chesapeake Bay- In June 2006, John Delp, a waterman, aboard the crab boat Bodacious, caught a single adult male specimen of Eriocheir sinensis at Seven-foot Knoll, adjacent to the channel at the mouth of the Patpasco River, at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor (John Delp, personal communication, Lynn Fegley (7/21/06, personal communication). The specimen was given to personnel at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and then brought to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. It was tentatively identified as a male E. sinensis by Yongxu Cheng (7/21/06, personal communication). Rafael LeMaitre (U.S. National Museum of Natural History) confirmed this identification by comparing the specimen to one collected in China.

Publicity about this crab's capture resulted in a report of an earlier male specimen, caught in or before June 2005, by Jim Foltz, a waterman, in Chesapeake Bay, between Fort Howard and North Point, just outside the mouth of the Patapsco River. This specimen, also a male, was kept alive in an aquarium for several months by Steve Thaos, a ranger at North Point State Park, who then froze it and kept it. The specimen was given to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) (Jim Foltz, Steve Thaos, Carin Ferrante, personal communications; Ruiz et al. 2006). In 2006, the SERC Invasions Lab received two additional reports of captures of Mitten Crabs, one near Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, and another at the mouth of the Patuxent River near Solomons, Maryland. While we did not receive specimens, we considered these reports to be reliable (Ruiz et al. 2006). On May 18 2007, an additional adult male was collected at Holland Point Bar, Chesapeake Beach, and in June, two adult females, the first in Chesapeake Bay, were collected, one at Bloody Point Light, on Kent Island, Maryland, and the other at Cove Point, Solomons. In 2009, an adult male crab was captured at North Point Creek (Carin Ferrante, Darrick Sparks, personal communications). So far, all of the crabs collected and examined in Chesapeake Bay have been adults with a 62-66 mm carapace diameter. One of the female crabs appeared to be in the process of developing a second brood of eggs. No mitten crabs have been collected in Chesapeake Bay since 2009, and there is no evidence of an established population at this time (May 2011).

Delaware Bay- In late May 2007, Mitten Crabs were caught in two locations in upper Delaware Bay, at Liston Point (May 25, one male) and Woodland Beach (May 29-30, three males) (Center for Aquatic Resource Studies 2007, Carin Ferrante, personal communication). On July 11, a female crab was caught at Silver Bed Oyster Bar, in the Simons River, Delaware. This female had spawned once, and was bearing a second brood of fertilized eggs (Center for Aquatic Resource Studies 2007, Carin Ferrante, personal communication). As of May 2011, 16 adult mitten crabs have been collected in brackish waters of Delaware Bay. No juvenile crabs have been collected, and there is no evidence of a breeding population (Carin Ferrante, Darrick Sparks, personal communication).

New Jersey Coastal Bays- In June 2008, an adult male crab was caught in Toms River, New Jersey, a tributary of Barnegat Bay (Carin Ferrante, personal communication). Two female crabs were also caught in Toms River, one in May 2008 and one in May 2009. In 2010, a male crab was caught in Barnegat Bay, at Seaside Park. To the north of Barnegat Bay, a female crab was caught in the Manasquan River in October 2009. In Great Egg Harbor, to the south, a male crab was collected at Ocean City in May 2010 (Darrick Sparks, personal communication). Again, no juvenile crabs have been collected, and there is no evidence of a breeding population.

Hudson River Estuary and Raritan Bay- On June 3, 2007, an adult male Mitten Crab was caught near the Tappan Zee Bridge, in Nyack, NY (Center for Aquatic Resource Studies 2007, Carin Ferrante, personal communication). Starting in October 2007, 115 total crabs, including juveniles as small as 16 mm in carapace width, males, and egg-bearing females have been caught in tidal portions of the river from near Albany, New York to New York Harbor. Some were caught near dams and falls of tributaries, which suggests migration (Carin Ferrante; Darrick Sparks, personal communication), and a number of molted carapaces have been seen in several tributary streams (Schmidt et al. 2009). In June 2008, a male crab was caught in Raritan Bay, a sub-estuary of the New York Bight, into which the Hudson River also flows. In 2009, 39 crabs, including several adult females, were caught in Raritan Bay and its tributaries. Since Chinese Mitten Crabs have not been caught in the freshwaters of the Raritan River system, the Raritan crabs appear to be an offshoot of the breeding population in the Hudson River (Carin Ferrante; Darrick Sparks, personal communication). In January 2010, 21 adult crabs, one male and 20 gravid adult females were trawled in New York Harbor.

Since 2006, 165 Chinese Mitten Crabs (number as of May 2011), have been collected in the mid-Atlantic region of the US, from Chesapeake Bay north to the Hudson River. In the Hudson River, the occurrence of gravid females in the higher-salinity parts of the estuary, and molting juveniles in freshwater streams supports the presence of a breeding, migratory population (Schmidt et 2009, Carin Ferrante; Darrick Sparks, personal communication; Ruiz et al., unpublished data). Occurrences in estuaries to the south may represent an outflow of larvae from the Hudson, or could indicate the presence of undiscovered reproducing populations.

Long Island Sound- Two specimens of E. sinensis were caught in the Mianus Pond fishway in Greenwich, Connecticut, on June 20 2012 and October 30 2014. The fishway is just above the tidal river. The first specimen was a young crab, missing claws and the second was an adult female (Darrick Sparks, personal communication, USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program 2013; Matthew Goclowski 10/30/2014).

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River- The first North American specimens of Eriocheir sinensis were caught in the Great Lakes, beginning in 1965, when a crab was found in a water-intake pipe on the Detroit River, at Windsor, Ontario. In 1973, three more specimens were caught in gill nets in Lake Erie. These crabs were probably brought from the Baltic in ships' ballast water (Nepszy and Leach 1973). Additional Great Lakes specimens were collected in 2005, in Lake Superior, at Thunder Bay, and in Lake Erie (Center for Aquatic Resource Studies 2006). In 2004, several specimens were caught in the St. Lawrence River, the first near Quebec City, a second near Trois Rivieres, and a third in Lake St. Pierre, in a dammed portion of the river, above the head of the tide (de Lafontaine 2005; Environment Canada 2006). Reproduction of E. sinensis in the St Lawrence River has not been documented.

Mitten Crabs probably reached the Great Lakes by ballast water from Europe, and ballast water transport is a possible vector for other introduction locations on the East Coast. Another potential vector is the importation of live crabs for food, as they are considered a delicacy in Asian communities. The importation and inter-state transport of Eriocheir sinensis in North America is prohibited by the federal Lacey Act. Mitten crabs were listed under the act in 1989. Prior to being listed, they were sold alive in Asian markets at prices up to $32/kg. In 1987, they were also banned by California state law (Cohen and Carlton 1997). Maryland banned possession of Chinese Mitten Crabs in 2002 (Maryland Department of Natural Resources 2006).

Invasion History on the Gulf Coast:

In 1987, a single specimen of Eriocheir sinensis was collected from the Mississippi River Delta in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana (Center for Aquatic Resource Studies 2006). This specimen could have arrived by ballast water or be an escape or release resulting from the "live food" trade.

Invasion History in Hawaii:

Invasion History Elsewhere in the World:

Eriocheir sinensis was first collected outside its native range in 1912 in the Aller River, Germany, a North Sea tributary, and soon spread to the nearby Elbe River. No further range expansions were reported until 1927, but from 1927 to 1954, E. sinensis spread rapidly westward along the North Sea and English Channel coasts, reaching St. Malo, Normandy, France in 1954, but also, in 1954, appearing in the Gironde and Loire estuaries, on the Bay of Biscay. By 1958, it was collected at Hendaye, France, on the border with Spain (Herborg et al. 2005). By 1999, it reached the Tagus River, Portugal (Cabral and Costa 1999). The Chinese Mitten Crab also spread rapidly to the East, reaching Vyborg at the head of the Gulf of Finland by 1933 and Gaevle, Sweden, in the lower Gulf of Bothnia by 1934. In the Baltic, spawning populations have been found as far east as Kiel Bight (Otto and Brandis 2011), but the frequent occurrence of crabs far into the inner Baltic suggests either migrations of up to 1000 km, or spawning at lower salinities (Ojaveer et al. 2007). Peak rates of spread in European waters exceeded 500 km/year, but over longer periods, more typically averaged 100-200 km/year (Herborg et al. 2005). Aside from a couple of individual captures in 1935 and 1949, the establishment and spread of E. sinensis in the British Isles began in the river Thames in 1973. The crab continued to spread, reaching the Tyne River, Yorkshire (North Sea Coast) and the Irish Sea coast (Wales) by 2001. Canals have enabled E. sinensis to move between river systems inland, as well as along the coast (Herborg et al. 2005).

Canal systems and ballast water transport have enabled Eriocheir sinensis to reach outlying bodies of water in Eurasia, including rivers and lakes in landlocked countries such as the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary (Herborg et al. 2003). In 1960, several specimens of this crab were found in Mediterranean lagoons in the vicinity of Narbonne, France. The crabs had probably reached the Mediterranean by the Canal du Midi. However, this population did not become established (Galil et al. 2002). In 1998, E. sinensis was collected in the Gulf of Odessa, on the Black Sea, where a population is now established and has been collected from inland sites in the Volga River basin, and in the Sea of Azov (Murina and Antonovsky 2001; Gomiou et al. 2002). A specimen has also been collected from a freshwater river near the Caspian Sea, in Iran, in 2001 (Robbins et al. 2006). A single specimen, collected from a brackish canal feeding into the Persian Gulf, in Basra, Iraq (Clark et al. 2006), has been re-identified as E. hepuensis (Naser et al. 2012). Chinese Mitten Crabs are now regularly caught in the Archangel Bay, of the White Sea (Berger and Naumov 2002). Canals connecting to the Baltic are a likely vector for the Black, White Sea, and Caspian Sea populations, but the Iraqi specimen was probably a ballast water introduction.

Two specimens collected in Tokyo Harbor in 2004 represent a probable introduction of E. sinensis to Japan from China (Takeda and Koziumi 2005), either by ballast water, or as a fisheries-related release.


Description

Mitten crabs of the genus Eriocheir are easily recognized by the dense patches of setae (bristles or hairs) on their claws, a trait for which they are named. Males and females both have hairy claws, but the patches cover more of the claws in males. Claws of adults and juveniles of both sexes are hairy, white-tipped and roughly equal in size. The carapace is slightly broader than it is long, with four teeth on its front margin. There is a frontal notch between the eyes. Legs are about twice as long as the carapace width, and in adults, the outer segments are lined with long hairs. In California, adult mitten crabs often reach 80 mm (3 1/8 inches) in carapace width. In crabs bigger than 10 mm (1/2 inch), sex can be distinguished by the shape of the abdomen, rounded in females, narrow and triangular in males (Guo et al. 1997; Rudnick et al. 2000).

There has been a disagreement as whether to consider E. sinensis as a single variable species, or to recognize several regional species. Recent morphological (Guo et al. 1997; Komai et al. 2006) and genetic studies (Tang et al. 2005) have not resolved this disagreement. If the regional forms are subspecific, E. japonica is the senior name, and the Chinese Mitten Crab becomes E. japonica sinensis (Tang et al. 2005). This synonymy has not been generally accepted. Differences among the various regional morphotypes are quite small.

Specimens of E. sinensis (Chinese Mitten Crab) differ from E. japonica (Japanese Mitten Crab) in having a more convex carapace, lacking a central depression over the stomach. The frontal teeth are sharper and more deeply divided than those of E. japonica, with a deeper median notch. The four antero-lateral teeth are more well-defined in E. sinensis than in E. japonica. The propodus of the fourth walking leg is narrower (2.5-3.6 X as long as wide) in E. sinensis compared to E. japonica (2.2-2.7 X long as wide) (Jensen and Armstrong 2004).

A description of larval stages of E. sinensis is given by Ditell and Epifanio (2009). Rice and Tsukimura (2007) also provide a description, with comparisons to West Coast (San Francisco Bay) crab larvae.

Sakai (2013) has proposed a revision of the Mitten Crab group, in which E. japonica and E. ogasawaraensis would be retained the genus Eriocheir, while E. hepuensis and E. sinensis would be transferred to the new genus Paraeriocheir. We will retain the the traditional scientific names, until the revisions are generally accepted.


Taxonomy

Taxonomic Tree

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Arthropoda
Subphylum:   Crustacea
Class:   Malacostraca
Subclass:   Eumalacostraca
Superorder:   Eucarida
Order:   Decapoda
Suborder:   Pleocyemata
Infraorder:   Brachyura
Superfamily:   Grapsoidea
Family:   Varunidae
Genus:   Eriocheir
Species:   sinensis

Synonyms

Potentially Misidentified Species

Eriocheir hepuensis
Southern Chinese Mitten Crab, native to southern China. This species may be established in Iraq (Naser et al. 2012; Naderloo 2014).

Eriocheir japonica
Native to Japan, southern most Korea, west coast of Taiwan, southern China

Eriocheir n. sp. (Palero et al. 2022(

A new unidientified cryptic species of Eriocheir has been detected genetically in the Dee estuary, Wales, and in the Netherlands (2012-2015, Palero et al. 2022)



Eriocheir ogasawaraensis
Native to the Ogasawara Islands, SE of Japan

Neoeriocheir leptognathus
Native to coastal waters of China, does not enter freshwater

Platyeriocheir formosa
Native to Taiwan

Ecology

General:

Life History- Adult mitten crabs (Eriocheir spp.) are catadromous. They spawn in estuaries in brackish-marine waters. Females carry a sponge-like mass of fertilized eggs under their abdomens, until the eggs hatch into spiny larvae (zoeae), which molt through five zoea stages, before molting into a more crablike megalopa stage. The megalopa stage molts into a 1st crab stage, which has a typical crablike form and settles to the bottom. Settlement occurs 18 to 42 days after hatching, depending on temperature (Anger 1991). The planktonic larvae require salinities of 15-30 ppt for successful development to the megalopa stage, and show their best survival at 25 ppt. Megalopae show a preference for intermediate salinities of 15-25 ppt, and tend to seek bottom waters, resulting in upstream transport (Anger 1991).

Early crab stages may spend their first winter in brackish water and then migrate upstream into non-tidal portions of rivers and streams, where they feed, grow and molt about 10-12 more times. Some crabs have been collected 1000 km from the sea. Adult crabs are tolerant of a wide range of salinities and temperatures, growing actively at temperatures from 7 to 30°C (Anger 1991; Rudnick et al. 2000). When crabs approach maturity, at 2 to 4 years, rapid growth of reproductive organs begins, and crabs develop an urge to migrate downstream for spawning (Herborg et al. 2005). Migration, with a final puberty molt, takes place in the fall, and spawning occurs in late fall. Adult crabs migrate downstream for spawning (in Europe in late fall), the males first, followed by the females. Adult crabs can disperse on land, when encountering an obstace, such as a dam, and can survive31-70 h out of wat, depending on temperatue and humidity (Fialho et al. 2016). Female crabs in the Szczecin Lagoon, Poland, carried 141,100 to 686,200 eggs, increasing in number with body size (Czerniejewski and Marcello 2013). After spawning, not all crabs migrate back upstream- some may stay in brackish water (Rudnick et al. 2000). Adults die after spawning (Anger 1991; Hymanson et al. 1999; Herborg et al. 2005; Rudnick et al. 2005a).

Mitten crabs are omnivorous, feeding opportunistically on detritus, vascular plants, and carrion, withdiets varying among habitats (Czerniejewski et al. 2010; Wójcik-Fudalewska et al. 2019). Mitten crabs are not fast-movng predators, but predation on fish eggs, and fishes in confined habitats (fishways, aquaculture ponds, etc.) is a concern (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Webster et al. 2015).In mesocosm experiments, Mitten Crabs removed plant shoots of Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), mostly by movement, and by aggressive interactions between crabs, with only minor levels of direct herbivory. High densities of Mittten Crabs can lead to complete vegetation loss (Schoelynck et al. 2019).

Food:

detritus, carrion, invertebrates, bait, plants

Consumers:

Raccoons, bullfrogs, fishes, birds

Competitors:

Crayfishes, other crabs

Trophic Status:

Omnivore

Omni

Habitats

General HabitatNontidal FreshwaterNone
General HabitatTidal Fresh MarshNone
General HabitatUnstructured BottomNone
General HabitatCanalsNone
General HabitatSalt-brackish marshNone
Salinity RangeLimnetic0-0.5 PSU
Salinity RangeOligohaline0.5-5 PSU
Salinity RangeMesohaline5-18 PSU
Salinity RangePolyhaline18-30 PSU
Salinity RangeEuhaline30-40 PSU
Tidal RangeSubtidalNone
Tidal RangeLow IntertidalNone
Tidal RangeTerrestrialNone
Vertical HabitatEndobenthicNone
Vertical HabitatEpibenthicNone

Life History


Tolerances and Life History Parameters

Minimum Temperature (ºC)0Temperature-Adults are reported to survive at temperatures of 0ºC for up to 7 days (Vincent 1996, cited by Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).
Maximum Temperature (ºC)30Growth ceases at this temperature; tolerance limits are probably higher (Rudnick et al. 2000).
Minimum Salinity (‰)0Juveniles and adults thrive in fresh water. Larval development can be completed at 15-32 ppt (Rudnick et al. 2000).
Maximum Salinity (‰)35Field data, San Francisco Bay (Rudnick et al. 2000), probably higher in lab or hypersaline natural environments.
Minimum Dissolved Oxygen (mg/l)Nonehypoxic
Minimum Reproductive Temperature12Temperature range for successful larval development (Anger 1991)
Maximum Reproductive Temperature18Temperature range for successful larval development (Anger 1991)
Minimum Reproductive Salinity15Salinity range for successful larval development (Anger 1991)
Maximum Reproductive Salinity25Salinity range for successful larval development (Anger 1991)
Minimum Duration18Laboratory data, 18 C (Anger 1991)
Maximum Duration42Laboratory data, 12 C (Anger 1991)
Age to Maturity3Maturation at 2-3 years has been reported from China, and at 4-5 years for colder parts of Europe (Hymanson et al. 1999; Herborg et al. 2005) . A 3 year life-cycle is seen in California (Hymanson 1999; Rudnick et al. 2005a).
Minimum Width (mm)30Minimum Adult carapace width, Males, Females (Guo et al. 1997; Rudnick et al. 2005; Herborg et al. 2005)
Maximum Width (mm)95Maximum Adult carapace width, Males, Females (Guo et al. 1997; Rudnick et al. 2005; Herborg et al. 2005)
Broad Temperature RangeNoneCold temperate-Warm temperate
Broad Salinity RangeNoneNontidal Limnetic-Euhaline

General Impacts

Eriocheir sinensis has been listed by the Invasive Species Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as one of the '100 worst invasive species.'

Economic Impacts

Fisheries: A variety of negative impacts of Eriocheir sinensis on fisheries have been reported from Europe and California. Mitten crabs steal fish bait from anglers and commercial fishermen in both regions. In some areas of San Francisco Bay and in European waters, interference by crabs with bait has made fishing unpleasant or impossible (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). Sport fisheries in San Francisco Bay have a total annual value of about $2 billion per year (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003), so fishing losses in parts of the Bay can have a substantial economic impact. In addition to bait-stealing, dense populations of Mitten Crabs also interfere with traps, nets and aquaculture ponds, by clogging and breaking them, and by eating trapped fish (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). In California, they caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilities, designed to divert fish from irrigation facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99%. Retrofitting of the facilities to prevent mitten crab entrapment was expensive but necessary (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Mitten Crabs can also interfere with fisheries by competing for food and shelter with fished species, such as crayfish and shrimp in San Francisco Bay (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003), or potentially with crab fisheries.

Introduced Chinese Mitten Crabs are a potential fisheries resource. They are a highly valued food in Asian communities, and are the object of intense aquaculture efforts in China (Hymanson et al. 1999). Before importation of the crab to the U.S. was banned under the Lacey Act in 1989, mitten crabs were being sold for $28-32/kg in San Francisco and up to $85/kg in New York City (Cohen and Carlton 1997; Hymanson et al. 1999). Since the ban was initiated, several importers have been arrested for attempting to bring crabs into the country. In one case in 2001, a shipment of crabs weighing 780 lbs, and valued at $32,000, was intercepted. The importer was sentenced to three months in prison and $3,000 in fines under the Lacey Act (U.S. Newswire 2003). Developing a fishery for this species might be profitable, but would risk spreading the species and its negative impacts. Clark (2011) discusses some of the issues related to starting a mitten crab fishery on the River Thames, downstream of London. These include human health issues (bacterial pathogens, trace metals, and organic pollutants), and bycatch of native food-fishes, especially the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla, considered endangered in the UK). On the other hand, fisheries may offer the best means for offsetting the impacts of a growing crab population, but moving forward would require strict regulation (Clark 2011).

Habitat Change (Ecosystem services): In their native habitat and in California and Europe, juvenile Eriocheir sinensis create extensive burrows in the banks of the tidal portions of streams (Rudnick et al. 2005b). This extensive burrowing in steep creek banks creates increased erosion, slumping, and sometimes collapse of river banks. In man-made levee and dike systems, Mitten Crab burrows can increase the frequency of catastrophic flooding during rain events and contribute to the loss of tidal wetlands.

Shipping (Boating): Erosion and riverbank collapse due to burrowing can affect canals and shipping channels (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Industry (Power plants): Large numbers of migrating crabs have clogged the cooling systems of power plants in Europe and California, reducing water flows (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Agriculture: Chinese Mitten Crabs are reported to damage rice plants in China, and pose a threat to rice fields in California. Their ability to burrow in canal banks and clog irrigation water systems is also a serious problem for irrigation-dependent agriculture (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Human Health: In its native range, Eriocheir sinensis is a possible secondary host for an Asian lung fluke Paragonimus westermani. This parasite requires a snail as a primary host, which is ingested by a crustacean, and then by a mammal, the final host. Humans can acquire the fluke by eating raw or inadequately cooked or pickled crustaceans (Center for Disease Control 2006). One potential Asian host snail (Melanoides tuberculata) is established in the San Francisco Bay Delta and Florida. However, the fluke has not yet been seen in California crabs (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Ecological Impacts

Predation: Eriocheir sinensis is an opportunistic omnivore. Juvenile and adult crabs feed on detritus, algae, aquatic plants, invertebrates, and dead or trapped fishes. Stable Isotope, gut contents, and feeding studies in San Francisco Bay indicate that this species feeds heavily on aquatic derived detritus, algae, and invertebrates feeding on the sediment surface. Dense populations of mitten crabs could alter stream communities by decreasing the abundance of surface-dwelling invertebrates, and shifting invertebrate populations to deeper dwelling infauna (Hymanson et al. 1999; Rudnick et al. 2000; Rudnick and Resh 2005). Mitten crabs are not normally fish predators, since they are slow-moving, but in confined spaces such as fishways, and holding-tanks in power plant and irrigation systems, they can attack fish or cause mortality through sheer crowding and clogging of passageways. In California, they caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilities, designed to divert fish from irrigation facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99% (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Direct predation on fish eggs in spawning streams (for example, to Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)), is a concern in the San Francisco Bay area (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003).

Competition: Chinese Mitten Crabs may potentially compete with other crustaceans in estuarine and freshwater habitats for food and space. The diet of the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus) is more carnivorous (Lippson and Lippson 1997), but both species are opportunistic, so a high density of Mitten Crabs could result in competition for invertebrate food and carrion. In freshwater, competition for food with native and introduced crayfish is possible. Crayfish are also omnivorous, so their food supply could be affected by the introduction of mitten crabs. Mitten Crabs have a feeding rate up to 3 times higher than that of the European Crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes in experiments, and so could compete with native crayfish and have a larger predatory impact on native benthic communities (Taylor and Dunn 2018).

Shelter from predators can be critical for crabs and crayfish, especially juveniles. Juvenile Mitten Crabs are potential competitors for hiding places under rocks and logs and in submerged vegetation (SAV) beds (Rudnick et al. 2000). In brackish estuarine waters on the East Coast, such competition is likely with mud crabs (e.g. Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Harris Mud Crab), Eurypanopeus depressus (Flatback Mud Crab)), and with juvenile Blue Crabs. In fresh waters, introduced crayfish frequently displace native species from shelters through aggressive behavior (Bovberg 1970). Juvenile Mitten Crabs dig burrows in river banks, and could compete with other burrowing species, such as Uca minax (Red-Jointed Fiddler Crab) in brackish areas, and Cambarus diogenes (Devil Crayfish) in fresh waters (Lippson and Lippson 1997). In the Thames estuary, England, and in laboratory experiments, juvenile E. sinensis excluded native Carcinus maenas (Green Crabs) of similar size from shelters under boulders (Gilbey et al. 2008).

Habitat Change (Ecosystem Engineering): Juvenile Eriocheir sinensis (Chinese Mitten Crabs), in their native and introduced habitats, create extensive burrows in the banks of the tidal portions of streams. Burrows in South San Francisco Bay tidal streams ranged from simple tubelike holes to complex, many-branched systems with multiple entrances, but all sloped downward from the entrance, so that they retained water after high tide. In different areas, total burrow volume averaged 700-900 cm-3 (Rudnick et al. 2005b). Burrowing crabs ranged from 4 mm to 45 mm carapace width, and burrow diameter was about twice the crab's carapace width. Overall, in the study area, burrows removed from 0.8 to 5.7% of the stream bank sediment during the study (Rudnick et al. 2005b). This extensive burrowing in steep creek banks creates increased erosion, slumping, and sometimes collapse of river banks. In man-made levee and dike systems, Mitten Crab burrows can increase the frequency of catastrophic flooding during rain events and contribute to the loss of tidal wetlands. In mesocosm experiments, Mitten Crabs can remove plant shoots of Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), mostly by movement, and by aggressive interactions between crabs, with only minor levels of direct herbivory. High densities of Mittten Crabs can lead to complete vegetation loss (Schoelynck et al. 2019).


Regional Impacts

NEA-IINoneEconomic ImpactFisheries
Eriocheir sinensis rarely prey on fish in open waters, but they damage fish caught in nets, and can swarm into eel-pots, preventing eels from entering (Panning 1938). Some fisheries for mitten crabs are taking place in Germany and the Netherlands- crabs from these fisheries are being sold in Chinese supermarkets in London (Clark 2011). Clark discusses health and economic issues involved in starting a possible fishery in the Thames River, below London (Clark 2011). In experiments, Mitten Crabs consumed a variety of fish eggs, between 2 and 6 mm in diameter. Predation is considered a threat to trout (Salmo trutta, salmon Salmo salar, pike Esox lucius, and European Flounder Platichthys flesus populations in Europe (Webster et al. 2015).
NEA-IINoneEcological ImpactHabitat Change
Eriocheir sinensis burrows in estuarine river-banks undermine the banks, causing their collapse (Panning 1938). Banks on some portions of the lower Thames have retreated up to 6 m, apparently due to crab burrows (Clark 2011).

In mesocosm experiments, Mitten Crabs can remove plant shoots of Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), mostly by movement, and by aggressive interactions between crab, with only minor levels of direct herbivory. High densities of Mittten Crabs can lead to complete vegetation loss (Schoelynck et al. 2019).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEconomic ImpactFisheries
In some areas of San Francisco Bay and European waters, interference by crabs with bait has made fishing unpleasant or impossible (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). Sport fisheries in San Francisco Bay have a total annual value of about $2 billion per year (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003), so fishing losses in parts of the Bay can have a substantial economic impact. In addition to bait-stealing, dense populations of Mitten Crabs also interfere with traps, nets and aquaculture ponds, by clogging them and breaking them, and by eating trapped fish (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). In California, E. sinensis caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilites, designed to divert fish from irrgation faclilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99%. Retrofitting of the facilities to prevent mitten crab entrapment was expensive (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Mitten Crabs can also intefere with fisheries by competing for food and shelter with fished species such as crayfish and shrimp in San Francisco Bay (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Erosion and riverbank collapse due to burrowing can affect canals and shipping channels (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEconomic ImpactIndustry
Industry (Power plants)- Large numbers of migrating crabs have clogged the cooling sytems of power plants in Europe and California, reducing water flows (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Industry (Agriculture)- Chinese Mitten Crabs are reported to damage rice plants in China, and pose a threat to rice fields in California. Their ability to burrow in canal banks and clog irrigation systems can pose serious problems for irrigation-dependent agriculture (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).
NEA-IINoneEconomic ImpactIndustry
Large numbers of migrating crabs have clogged the cooling systems of power plants in Europe, reducing water flows (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003). On the Thames River, England, mitten crabs have clogged intake screens for drinking water treatment plants (Clark 2011).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEcological ImpactPredation
Eriocheir sinensis is an opportunistic omnivore. Juvenile and adult crabs feed on detritus, algae, aquatic plants, invertebrates, and dead or trapped fish. Stable isotope, gut contents, and feeding studies in San Francisco Bay indicate that this species feeds heavily on aquatic derived detritus, algae, and invertebrates feeding on the sediment surface. Dense populations of mitten crabs could alter stream communities by decreasing abundance of surface-dwelling invertebrates and shifting invertebrate populations to deeper dwelling infauna (Hymanson et al. 1999; Rudnick et al. 2000; Rudnick and Resh 2005). Mitten crabs are not normally fish predators, since they are slow-moving, but in confined spaces such as fishways, and holding-tanks in power plant and irrgation systems, they can attack fish or cause mortality through sheer crowding and clogging of passageways. In California, they caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilites, designed to divert fish from irrgation faclilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99% (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Direct predation on fish eggs in spawning streams (for example, eggs of the Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)), is a concern in the San Francisco Bay area (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEcological ImpactCompetition
Chinese Mitten Crabs are potential competitors with other crustaceans in estuarine and freshwater habitats for food and space. Non-native species which could be affected include Orconectes virilis (Virile Crayfish) and Procambarus clarkii (Red Swamp Crayfish), both are established in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. In San Francisco Bay tributaries, diets of E. sinensis and P. clarkii overlapped somewhat, but E. sinensis feeds more on detritus of aquatic origin, algae, and surface dwelling invertebrates, while P. clarkii feeds more on detritus of terrestial origin and deeper-dwelling infauna (Rudnick and Resh 2005).
NEP-VNorthern California to Mid Channel IslandsEcological ImpactHabitat Change
Juvenile Eriocheir sinensis (Chinese Mitten Crabs), in their native and introduced habitats, create extensive burrows in the banks of the tidal portions of streams. Burrows in South San Francisco Bay tidal streams ranged from simple tubelike holes to complex, many-branched systems with multiple entrances, but all sloped downward from the entrance, so that they retained water after high tide. In different areas, total burrow volume averaged 700-900 cm-3 (Rudnick et al. 2005b). Burrowing crabs ranged from 4 mm to 45 mm carapace width, and burrow diameter was about twice the crab's carapace width. Overall, in the study area, burrows removed 0.8 to 5.7% of the stream bank sediment (Rudnick et al. 2005b). This extensive burrowing in steep creek banks creates increased erosion, slumping, and sometimes collapse of river banks. In man-made levee and dike systems, Mitten Crab burrows can increase the frequency of catastrophic flooding during rain events and contribute to the loss of tidal wetlands.
P090San Francisco BayEconomic ImpactFisheries
In some areas of San Francisco Bay and European waters, interference by Eriocheir sinensis with bait has made fishing unpleasant or impossible (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). Sport fisheries in San Francisco Bay have a total annual value of about $2 billion per year (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003), so fishing losses in parts of the Bay can have a substantial economic impact. In addition to bait-stealing, dense populations of Mitten Crabs also interfere with traps, nets and aquaculture ponds, by clogging and breaking them, and by eating trapped fish (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003; Invasive Species Specialist Group 2006). In California, they caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilities, designed to divert fish from irrigation facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99%. Retrofitting of the facilities to prevent mitten crab entrapment was expensive (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Mitten Crabs can also interfere with fisheries by competing for food and shelter with fished species such as crayfish and shrimp in San Francisco Bay (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003).
P090San Francisco BayEconomic ImpactShipping/Boating
Erosion and riverbank collapse due to burrowing can affect canals and shipping channels (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).
P090San Francisco BayEconomic ImpactIndustry
Industry (Power plants)- Large numbers of migrating crabs have clogged the cooling sytems of power plants in Europe and California, reducing water flow (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).

Industry (Agriculture)- Chinese Mitten Crabs are reported to damage rice plants in China, and pose a threat to rice fields in California. Their ability to burrow in canal banks and clog irrigation systems can be a serious problem for irrigation-dependent agriculture (Chinese Mitten Crab Working Group 2003).
P090San Francisco BayEcological ImpactPredation
Predation/Herbivory- Eriocheir sinensis is an opportunistic omnivore. Juvenile and adult crabs feed on detritus, algae, aquatic plants, invertebrates, and dead or trapped fish. Stable isotope, gut contents, and feeding studies in San Francisco Bay indicate that this species feeds heavily on aquatic derived detritus, algae, and invertebrates feeding on the sediment surface. Dense populations of mitten crabs could alter stream communities by decreasing abundance of surface-dwelling invertebrates and shifting invertebrate populations to deeper dwelling infauna (Hymanson et al. 1999; Rudnick et al. 2000; Rudnick and Resh 2005). Mitten crabs are not normally fish predators, since they are slow-moving, but in confined spaces such as fishways, and holding-tanks in power plant and irrigation systems, they can attack fish or cause mortality through sheer crowding and clogging of passageways. In California, they caused serious mortality in fish-salvage facilities, designed to divert fish from irrigation facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. At peak migration times, mortality of migrating fish in 1998 was 98-99% (Rudnick et al. 2000; Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003). Direct predation on fish eggs in spawning streams (for example, on Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)), is a concern in the San Francisco Bay area (Chinese Mitten Crab Control Committee 2003).
P090San Francisco BayEcological ImpactCompetition
Chinese Mitten Crabs are potential competitors with other estuarine and freshwater crustaceans for food and space. Non-native species which could be affected include Orconectes virilis (Virile Crayfish) and Procambarus clarkii (Red Swamp Crayfish), both established in Chesapeake Bay tributaries. In San Francisco Bay tributaries, diets of E. sinensis and P. clarkii overlapped somewhat, but E. sinensis feeds more on detritus of aquatic origin, algae, and surface dwelling invertebrates, while P. clarkii feeds more on detritus of terrestial origin and deeper-dwelling infauna (Rudnick and Resh 2005).
P090San Francisco BayEcological ImpactHabitat Change
Ecosystem Engineering- Juvenile Eriocheir sinensis, in their native and introduced habitats, create extensive burrows in the banks of the tidal portions of streams. Burrows in South San Francisco Bay tidal streams ranged from simple tubelike holes to complex, many-branched systems with multiple entrances, but all sloped downward from the entrance, so that they retained water after high tide. In different areas, total burrow volume averaged 700-900 cm-3 (Rudnick et al. 2005b). Burrowing crabs ranged from 4 mm to 45 mm carapace width, and burrow diameter was about twice the crab's carapace width. Overall, in the study area, burrows removed 0.8 to 5.7% of the stream bank sediment (Rudnick et al. 2005b). This extensive burrowing in steep creek banks creates increased erosion, slumping, and sometimes collapse of river banks. In man-made levee and dike systems, Mitten Crab burrows can increase the frequency of catastrophic flooding during rain events and contribute to the loss of tidal wetlands.
NEA-IINoneEcological ImpactCompetition
In the Thames Estuary, England, and in laboratory experiments, juvenile E. sinensis excluded native Carcinus maenas (Green Crabs) of similar size from shelters under boulders (Gilbey et al. 2008).
NEA-IINoneEcological ImpactPredation
In experiments, Mitten Crabs consumed a variety of fish eggs, between 2 and 6 mm in diameter. Predation is considered a threat to trout (Salmo trutta, salmon Salmo salar, pike Esox lucius, and European Flounder Platichthys flesus populations in Europe (Webster et al. 2015).
NEA-IINoneEcological ImpactHabitat Change
None

Regional Distribution Map

Bioregion Region Name Year Invasion Status Population Status
NEP-V Northern California to Mid Channel Islands 1992 Def Estab
GL-II Lake Erie 1965 Def Failed
NEA-II None 1912 Def Estab
NWP-4a None 0 Native Estab
NWP-3a None 0 Native Estab
B-II None 1928 Def Estab
B-III None 1926 Def Estab
B-IV None 1928 Def Estab
B-V None 1928 Def Estab
B-VI None 1932 Def Estab
B-VII None 1933 Def Estab
B-VIII None 1933 Def Estab
B-IX None 1933 Def Estab
B-I None 1986 Def Estab
MED-II None 1960 Def Failed
CAR-I Northern Yucatan, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits, to Middle Eastern Florida 1987 Def Failed
NEA-IV None 1954 Def Estab
NEA-V None 1958 Def Estab
AR-III None 1998 Def Unk
MED-X None 2001 Def Unk
MED-IX None 1997 Def Estab
NA-S3 None 2004 Def Unk
GL-I Lakes Huron, Superior and Michigan 2005 Def Failed
CASP Caspian Sea 2002 Def Unk
NWP-3b None 2004 Def Unk
B-XI None 1934 Def Estab
MED-VII None 2005 Def Unk
LLODOGA Lake Ladoga 2005 Def Failed
LONEGA Lake Onega 1999 Def Failed
NA-ET3 Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras 2007 Def Estab
M130 Chesapeake Bay 2005 Def Unk
P090 San Francisco Bay 1992 Def Estab
B-XIII None 1946 Def Unk
B-XII None 1943 Def Unk
B-X None 1934 Def Estab
M090 Delaware Bay 2007 Def Unk
M060 Hudson River/Raritan Bay 2007 Def Estab
G180 Breton/Chandeleur Sound 1987 Def Failed
NEA-III None 2004 Def Estab
P093 _CDA_P093 (San Pablo Bay) 1994 Def Estab
M070 Barnegat Bay 2008 Def Unk
GL-III Lake Ontario 1981 Def Failed
VANERN Vanern 1954 Def Estab
M080 New Jersey Inland Bays 2010 Def Unk
AR-V None 2007 Def Unk
L118 _CDA_L118 (Chaumont-Perch) 1981 Def Failed
L098 _CDA_L098 (Black-Rocky) 2007 Def Failed
M040 Long Island Sound 2012 Def Estab
EAS-VI None 2010 Def Unk
NEP-IV Puget Sound to Northern California 1997 Def Failed
P260 Columbia River 1997 Def Failed

Occurrence Map

OCC_ID Author Year Date Locality Status Latitude Longitude
29030 Cohen et al. 2005 (SF Bay Area RAS) 2004 2004-05-26 Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor/San Pablo Bay Def 37.9624 -122.4188
30332 Cohen and Carlton, 1995 1994 1994-11-01 South San Francisco Bay Def 37.5457 -122.1645

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