A Blue Crab Invasion Is Making Life Hell for Spanish Fishermen

Maryland's beloved blue crabs somehow made it across the Atlantic, and are now "devouring everything" and even getting compared to ISIS.
March 28, 2019, 4:11pm
blue crab
Photo: Getty Images

On its website, The Food Network has more than 200 different recipes for blue crab, from Paula Deen’s Lump Blue Crab Salad to, uh, Paula Deen’s Boiled Crabs Bathed in Garlic Butter. It’s a page worth bookmarking if you enjoy being passive-aggressive to your arteries… or if you live on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

According to The Guardian, the first blue crabs were spotted on Spain’s Ebro Delta in 2012, and in the seven years since, the invasive crustaceans have become a bit of a problem. If you’ve ever vacationed in Maryland, you know that blue crabs are native to the eastern United States, and although scientists can only speculate about how they were transported across the Atlantic, they have quickly made themselves comfortable by “devouring everything,” in one fisherman’s words, destroying fishing nets, and by eating the green crabs that used to live in those same waters. (Most biologists believe that crabs were in the water that filled some ships’ ballast tanks, and then inadvertently dumped into the Spanish water when those ships reached their destinations.)


Regardless of how they got there, the crabs are sticking around, and the only solution might be to start eating them. Eating a lot of them. Fishermen in the Ebro Delta are catching a ton of blue crabs every day, a number that is only increasing. This week alone—or any week—the total crab haul exceeds the 12 tons of blue crab that were caught for the entire year of 2017.

Because of their razor-sharp claws, the crabs accidentally wreck fishing nets and have to be caught using specialized metal baskets. It is not unusual for blue crabs to be the only thing that some fishermen catch all day. (They can be such invasive pests that when they started to increasingly appear off the coast of Tunisia, that country’s fishermen compared them to ISIS, because “they’ve destroyed everything.”)

Scientists from the University of Alicante Marine Research Centre (CIMAR) in Spain have been trying to identify ways to control the blue crab population, but it’s difficult because they reproduce faster than the researchers can work. As a result, the best method of controlling them seems to be trying to find better ways of catching them, and by issuing permits to allow more commercial fishermen to use crab-specific baskets or cages.

On the bright side, Spaniards are learning that blue crabs can be delicious, and work well in traditional dishes like paella. “The crab is here, conditions for its success are very good,” Joan Balagué, head of the fisherman’s association in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, told The Guardian. “It has become another resource and there’s a market for it, so it’s profitable for fishermen. As fishermen we have to adapt and make the most of what we can get.” It sounds like adapting might involve a lot of garlic butter baths, too.