Crabs in Lake Erie?
Written by The Morning Journal   
Monday, 17 September 2007 16:12

A local fisherman got more than he bargained for yesterday morning.  Rick Patterson of Lorain was fishing for perch off the pier near the Jackalope Bar and Rotisserie, when he saw something biting the minnow on his hook and reeled it in.

What Patterson caught was a Chinese mitten crab.

''I've caught everything there is to catch in this lake,'' said Patterson, an avid angler.

When he caught sight of the crab, Patterson said, ''This is definitely a foreign species to the lake. This has got to be something to look into.''

Dave Kelch, extension specialist with the Ohio Sea Grant Program of The Ohio State University Extension Service, drove to the pier yesterday to take a first-hand look at the crab.

''It's a Chinese mitten crab indigenous to China,'' Kelch said. ''It's an aquatic invader.''

''The shell size is the size of a hardball baseball,'' said Kelch. ''When you stretch its legs out from side to side, it's a good 10 to 12 inches.''

Kelch said an aquatic invader ''is anything that's not supposed to be here. It's always going to displace or cause a change in something.''

Kelch said the first sighting of two Chinese mitten crabs in Lake Erie was in 1973. A second Chinese mitten crab was found in the lake in 2005.

''This is only the fourth one found in Lake Erie,'' Kelch said.

While the crab caught Kelch's eye, what Patterson told him caught his ear.

''The strange thing about this,'' Kelch said, ''is that he (Patterson ) said he's always fishing out here and that he's seen a Chinese ore freighter (on occasion) sitting outside the harbor.''

Kelch speculated that the crab could have been caught in the ballast water from the freighter's home port of Hong Kong and then dumped into Lake Erie. Ballast water balances the ship and is proportional to the weight of the load the ship is carrying.

''Massive compartments underneath the vessel have to fill with water to maintain the balance of the vessel, depending on what the cargo is they've got,'' Kelch said. ''When they take up ballast water to level out their ship, it's highly likely they may draw in some water'' from their home port.

Bill Morog, president of Jonick Dock and Terminal, Lorain, said the last ship whose home port is Hong Kong came to Lorain last month from Colombia, South America.

As for the ballast water, Morog said the freighters take in ballast water from the lake.

''They come in loaded (with ballast water) and will actually suck in water,'' Morog said.

Kelch said other possibilities as to how the crab got into the lake include someone taking the crab from an aquarium and depositing it in the lake.

Right now, Kelch said it's anybody's guess as to how the crab got here.

''The thing is, how many other weird things are we going to find (in Lake Erie)? The count so far is 178 aquatic invaders,'' said Kelch, pointing out that about 20 years ago, the zebra mussel was brought in to Lake Erie from ships leaving harbors in the Caspian and Black seas.

''Obviously, this is a concern,'' said Rick Novak, executive director, Lorain Port Authority, regarding the Chinese mitten crab in Lake Erie waters.

''There have been problems throughout our history of invasive species that come in. We want to track it and be very cautious about it,'' he said.

Patterson gave the Oriental crustacaen to Kelch.

''The specimen will be added to the present collection at Sea Grant's Aquatic Research Lab on Put-in-Bay,'' Kelch said
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