The Blue Crab Is One of the Most Dangerous Invasive Species in the Mediterranean. In Italy, They Have a Plan: Eat Them

  • These crabs devour mollusks and jeopardize coastal economies.

  • They’re also a threat to eels, which are an endangered species.

Blue crab
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Pablo Martínez-Juarez

The blue crab (callinectes sapidus) has become public enemy number one in various parts of the Mediterranean coast. The concern of some sectors is so severe that Italy decided to take desperate measures a few months ago.

Hunting the hunter. The Italians’ solution is to include the crustacean in their diet. The aim is to encourage the capture of the dreaded blue crab and prevent its rapid spread along the Mediterranean coast.

Clams, mussels, and eels. The blue crab is a voracious predator. The first reports linked this animal to losing many mollusks in fishing operations on the Italian coast, with the crabs devastating local shellfish farms.

Since then, these coastal areas have witnessed the crab’s voracity: Clams, mussels, eels, and even fishing nets have been among its victims. Because of their already vulnerable situation, eels are one of the main ecological concerns with the arrival of the blue crab.

The problem isn’t limited to the coast. Recent research by the Doñana Biological Station warns of the ability of these animals to migrate upstream. How far? About 60 miles, according to the work published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

New type of seafood. Without a natural predator to control its population, humans have turned to catching the crabs and incorporating them into their diets. In 2023, the Italian government earmarked $3.5 million to combat the spread of this invasive species. The determination has extended to the highest echelons of the government. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has posed with the crab herself, a perfect example of the country's efforts to eradicate this species from the its coasts.

There’s no data on the degree of implementation of these initiatives. While North America places high value on the blue crab, Europe doesn’t eat it much, yet. According to CNN, the price of blue crab in the Italian market in 2023 was around $3 per pound, much less than other similar crustaceans.

Cobra Effect? Not everyone welcomes this eco-gastronomic measure. In addition to Italian cuisine purists, some ecologists have disagreed with these initiatives.

From a more technical perspective, some fear that introducing the blue crab into Italian gastronomy would be a perverse incentive, the dreaded “cobra effect.” The fear is that the consumption of this crustacean will become established, creating a market and thus an incentive to cultivate it, or at least to take care not to drive it to extinction.

Blue crabs in Europe. This species is a problem not only in Italy but also in Spain. The blue crab is native to the western Atlantic, and the first sightings in the Mediterranean were in 1949. This arrival of this animal was accidental, unlike the American crab or the catfish, which were introduced in this territory for commercial purposes (the catfish isn’t consumed but can be caught by fishermen).

Residents along the Spanish coast have reported sightings of this species in the Ebro Delta, the Mar Menor, or the Balearic Islands; It has even reached points on the Atlantic coast, such as the mouth of the Guadiana.

In 2019, a scientific committee decided to include the blue crab in the Spanish Catalog of Invasive Alien Species, considering it a “high-risk” species.

Image | wpopp

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