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    Posted May 27, 2014 by
    Harper's Ferry, West Virginia

    Potomac Tributary 'Damaged Beyond Repair'

    A tsunami of runoff from residential homebuilding hurt it over the past 20 years, as did commercial fertilizers and dairy cow manure for decades before that, but it is an invasive species, the Asian Firecrab, that has brought Virginia's Trawney Creek to its knees. And the environmental oddity may already have invaded the nearby Potomac River, according to some analysts.

    "The water of the Trawney cannot be safely drunk or even swam in, and fishing in it is banned," said Carlo Gleason of the Clarke County Fisherman's Guild. "This is a direct tributary of the Potomac River and, of course, the Chesapeake Bay, and it is just a matter of time before those crabs invade the Potomac and the freshwater portions of the bay."

    Virtually unknown in the United States just two years ago, the Firecrab has taken over several small waterways in the MidAtlantic, but none as virulently as the Trawney Creek, a stream running less than 20 miles out of the Virginia hills and into the Potomac River near Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.

    Local residents say the stream was once filled with trout and other small gamefish, but now is barren, except for swarms of the Firecrab. The crustacean grow no larger than a man's thumbnail, but they attack much bigger animals, including fish and amphibians, numbers so large that the local ecosystem can't handle it.

    According to one study, as many as 1,200 Firecrabs will simultaneously attack a single frog. In it's latest survey, the Clarke County Environmental Center estimated that the tiny Trawney had more than 1.8 million of the crabs living between its shores.

    One local paper reported a huge swarm of the crabs leaving the Trawney's waters and attacking birds' nests in nearby trees.

    Firecrabs will be even more prolific, and cause more damage, when they move into the Potomac, if they haven't made that move already, Gleason said.

    "It would be one of the swiftest, most damaging environmental events this area has ever seen," Gleason said. "It would be on the same scale as the Chestnut tree blight in the early 1900s, which killed millions of trees. But this time it will be all of the small fish and amphibian life in the freshwater Potomac and Chesapeake that will be killed off."

    Barring a turn in their fortunes, Firecrabs could be active throughout the Potomac in just three years.

    But it isn't all doom and gloom. A particularly hot summer or extended drought conditions could give waterfowl a chance to halt or even reverse the crabs' advance.

    So far, it's been a relatively cool and rainy spring in the East.

    The crabs are thought to have been stowaways in seafood bins imported from Vietnam and Laos.
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