ROCKPORT — In response to growing concern about the effect invasive green crabs are having on Maine’s shoreline, Gov. Paul LePage announced Friday that he is establishing a task force to examine the issue, effective immediately.

LePage made the announcement while attending the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport.

“Green crabs are threatening our state’s $25 million bivalve shellfish industry, which is Maine’s third most lucrative fishery,” LePage said in prepared remarks. “It’s critical that we protect the fishery and the good jobs the industry supports.”

The population of green crabs, an invasive species from Europe that first migrated to North America in the 1800s, has surged in Maine in the past few years.

Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, a lack of predators and competitors in their habitat, and the absence in North America of a parasite that inhibits their reproduction rates in Europe all are considered factors in their population surge, scientists have said.

Shellfish harvesters say the crabs have dug up and decimated populations of softshell clams in mudflats along the entire coast.

“Green crabs not only endanger a vital segment of Maine’s fishing economy, but this invasive species could destroy some of Maine’s most famous dishes, including steamed clams and the fried clam dinner,” LePage added.

Speaking off the cuff, LePage said the state did not have money to conduct scientific studies on the situation, which he pointedly blamed on the Legislature.

“Unfortunately, if the Legislature had a little bit of foresight and not robbed every account in the state for welfare, we could use some money for research, but that has not been forthcoming and likely is not going to be forthcoming, so whatever happens is going to have to be done at the executive level,” LePage said. “I see some legislators smiling here, so they know who they are.”

The task force will consist of 12 people not yet appointed. Groups that will have representatives on the task force include the state departments of Marine Resources, Environmental Protection, Economic and Community Development, municipalities with local shellfish regulations, clam industry representatives and researchers with economic or marine science backgrounds.

The task force is charged with assessing the effect of green crabs along the coast, coming up with possible solutions to controlling their population, weighing the economic costs of those solutions and considering other possible steps, according to the proclamation establishing the body.

The order sets a deadline of Sept. 30 of this year for submitting a report with recommendations back to the governor and then will be dissolved.

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