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Blue claw crabs invade Italy’s kitchens and threaten fishing industry


If you ask an Italian-American organization or club to identify their best fundraiser events, 90 percent of the time the answer is “spaghetti and crabs.”  This favorite dish of Italian Americans, made with blue claw crabs, is not Italian at all. In fact, the blue claw crab, unknown to Italians until recently, has managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean and has provoked alarm across the Italian fishing industry.

Throughout this year’s fishing season, there has been talk of these “invaders” which started in the early spring. Along Italy’s northern Adriatic coast and in Tuscan fish farms, workers have been pulling up their nets and finding them chewed to threads. Then they began discovering eels with missing heads and harvested clams and mussels with their meat already devoured.

Fisherman catch clams in the shallow waters of the Scardovari lagoon. | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

These events have threatened the overall Italian fishing industry with millions of euros worth of annual profits just in the shellfish and eel markets alone. This damage to the shellfish and eel industries risks destroying an economy that not only provides a livelihood for many communities, but is also noted as an industry of Italian and European excellence along with other identity products of this region like Parma ham or Parmigiano.

The Italian-American classic spaghetti and crabs.

Fishing communities in the affected regions have been advised to capture as many blue claw crabs as they can to control their population. In the Po River delta, however, such efforts have proven ineffective. In just a few years, the crabs, which can produce 2 million eggs a year and have no natural predators in Italy, have reproduced quickly, wiping out the entire clam and mussel harvest for some fishermen.

In the Atlantic waters of North America, the blue claw crab is an incredibly important food source for its natural predators such as rays and sharks. However, in the north of Italy it has no predators and is reproducing without limits and destroying the local fauna.

Marine biologists say warmer seawater and above-average temperatures mean that the crabs are thriving – and taking over. The crabs have been found all along Italy’s vast coastline and in the Po Delta, a UNESCO heritage site known for its “vongole veraci,” a variety of clam which has been nearly wiped out this summer.

The Coldiretti farming  lobby described the crabs’ presence as a “natural calamity” which threatens the survival of 3,000 family firms in the Po Delta, and called for government support. Initially, the government recommended catching and destroying the crabs, which are delicacies in other parts of the world.

And it didn’t take long for some fishermen, their nets laden with the tiny beasts, to monetize the invasion of this non-native species. Even local sports fishermen have begun crabbing in Italy’s brackish waters and along coastlines.

Now Italians are turning the killer crustaceans into a culinary delicacy, introducing them into risotto, pasta dishes and even salads. In fact, as part of Italy’s blue claw carb culinary solution, the popular Italian-American “spaghetti and crab” specialty has made its way across the Atlantic and has become a favorite dish in Italy. On YouTube alone there are numerous videos in Italian with recipes on preparing “pasta con granchi blu.”

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