This invasive species, native to the Atlantic coast of North America, has been present for years in the Mediterranean, but in recent months its accelerated multiplication has become a serious problem on the Adriatic coast near Venice.
“The blue crabs are devouring everything. This lagoon is becoming a desert,” laments Gianluca Travaglia, a 52-year-old clam and mussel producer.
He took over the activity of his father and grandfather on the Scardovari lagoon, one of the branches of the Po estuary, the largest river in Italy which flows into the Adriatic Sea.
“Every day that passes we catch more and more, I don’t know what to do,” the fisherman helplessly confesses to AFP as he guides his boat onto the lagoon.
His colleagues are faced with the same situation: “they can no longer even use their nets because the crabs come on them and break the threads!”.
The government released 2.9 million euros last week to deal with what Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida presented as a “critical situation”.
This money is intended to provide “economic incentives” to those who fish and get rid of blue crabs, which are multiplying in “dangerous” ways, he explained, noting that Italian waters do not have a natural predator fond of of this species.
Coldiretti, the main organization representing the agricultural sector, for its part denounced an “invasion” caused by climate change. This species “exterminates clams, mussels, eggs, other fish and molluscs, endangering the survival of 3,000 businesses in the Po Delta,” she worried.
From American coasts, blue crabs (whose scientific name is “callinectes sapidus”) spread across the world, probably through the ballast water of ships.
For several years, fishermen working from Albania to Spain via France have been able to note the presence of this alien species, which affects the natural balance of native fauna.
Excellent swimmers, they can weigh up to a kilo and eat almost anything using their slender blue claws, particularly well suited to opening clam shells.
Blue crab spaghetti
In Eraclea, another coastal town east of Venice, a restaurateur decided to explore the culinary uses of this new ingredient with its tasty flesh.
“You can prepare many dishes with blue crab,” rejoices Luca Faraon, as his customers enjoy blue crab spaghetti cooked with garlic, cherry tomatoes and parsley.
“We are still looking for how to use it in a dessert,” jokes the 58-year-old restaurateur.
In the United States, in the Chesapeake Bay, near Washington, the blue crab is very popular.
During a meeting with representatives of the sector last week, the Minister of Agriculture, even if he recognized the seriousness of the situation, preferred to focus on possible outlets in the United States and China. “Blue crabs are a great resource,” he said, highlighting their high vitamin B12 content.
This optimism is not at all shared by Emanuele Rossetti, biologist within the Polesine fishing consortium, one of the most important shellfish farming associations in Europe.
Clams, which cannot survive in an environment invaded by blue crabs, are the core business of its members, he explains, while the number of blue crabs, present in the lagoon for around fifteen years, has increased “exponentially” in recent months.
At the rate at which they are “devouring the clams”, he says he is “certain that the consortium’s fishermen will find themselves without goods to sell after December”.