Connor O’Neil ’15, who grew up catching green crabs on the shore near his Freeport, Maine, home, is the winner of a contest calling for ways to mitigate the impact of the destructive invasive species.
Sponsored by Colby’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, the contest was judged April 3. Eleven teams presented their proposals to a panel of judges that included marine scientists from academic institutions and nonprofits. O’Neil, who entered as an individual contestant, won a $1,000 prize.
Green crabs are an invasive species that has moved north into the Gulf of Maine as waters have warmed in recent decades. They are blamed for decimation of shellfish populations and vital eelgrass beds in Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.
Proposals presented included plans for educating young people on the threat of the invasive species, physically collecting the crabs, subsidizing a trapping plan for catching the invaders, and an economic model that would allow for analysis of the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.
O’Neil, who also is a licensed clam digger, said reports from veteran clam diggers and firsthand inspection reveal the rapid decline of that fishery. “They point out to you where resources were twenty or thirty years ago, and then you look out and it’s just dead shell,” he said. “Intertidal mussel bars that used to be loaded with mussels—those are completely gone.”
An environmental policy major who did summer research with Brian Beal of the University of Maine School of Ocean Sciences (who served as a judge for the completion), O’Neil maintained that the invasive crabs will not be eradicated. He presented a different plan—mitigating the green crab’s damage by establishing aquaculture fisheries for soft-shell clams on leased space on mudflats.
Studies done by Beal, with O’Neil assisting, showed that protecting seed clams with netting effectively prevents green crab predation on both stocked seed clams and wild seed clams. “You could have a good return and sustainable product regardless of what the green crab population is doing,” O’Neil said.