Italians cope with invasion of blue crabs

Italians cope with invasion of blue crabs

Italians cope with invasion of blue crabs

Italians are fighting an invasion of predatory blue crabs with an attitude borne of centuries of culinary making do: If you can’t beat them, eat them.

Fishermen, lobbying groups and environmentalists have sounded the alarm about the risks from a summer surge in the population of the fast-reproducing invasive species. The crabs are devouring stocks of eels, clams and mussels and wreaking havoc on fishing nets.

But since the crabs are here to stay, farm lobby group Coldiretti and fishing associations have been behind a series of events this summer trying to introduce a staple of American summertime fare to Italian palates.

Witness the menu at one Veneto agritourism farm-hotel that hosted a Coldiretti event this summer: rosemary crab salad; crab Venetian style (with onion and vinegar sour); and pasta with garlic-tossed crab.

“We usually do crab on the grill or, as in this case, with linguine,” said Davide Sergio, chef at the restaurant of La Peschereccia, a fishermen’s cooperative in Orbetello, on the Tuscan coast.

The new menu items, however, are evidence of a potentially devastating threat to Italy’s marine ecosystem and fishing, particularly its prized clam harvests that provide a key ingredient to another Italian culinary staple, spaghetti alle vongole.

Italy is the largest producer of clams in Europe and the third largest in the world after China and South Korea, according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization data from 2021.

But the blue crab — a strong and fast swimmer and a voracious and aggressive eater with no natural predators here other than fishermen — has put Italy’s clam and mussel producers in crisis. Fishing industry group Federagripesca estimates that over 50% of the shellfish production this year has been damaged.

The Italian government has allocated 2.9 million euros ($3.1 million) to fight the invasion devastating shellfish harvests, but the problem now also concerns other types of fish farms in various parts of Italy.

In the lagoon of the Orbetello nature reserve, blue crabs are gorging on seabream and eels, which are a prized wintertime catch that has sustained the local economy for centuries and stars in many traditional dishes.