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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Crab-crazy Korea to solve Italy’s crustacean invasion

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Blue crabs are reportedly devastating Italy's clam aquafarms. [AFP/YONHAP]
Blue crabs are reportedly devastating Italy’s clam aquafarms. [AFP/YONHAP]

Korea, the biggest crab-loving nation in the world, is looking to import blue crabs from Italy, where the crustaceans are proving a headache.

The blue crab opportunity comes as Italian authorities plan to offer 2.9 million euros ($3.1 million) as a reward for people who fish and dispose of blue crabs.

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Blue crabs are devastating Italy’s clam aquafarms, devouring up to 90 percent of young clams in some regions, Reuters reported in August. They are presumed to have arrived in the Mediterranean country via trade vessels about a decade ago.
The news had crab lovers in Korea crossing their fingers for Italian crab imports.

Korea was ranked first in crab consumption per capita with 1,904 kilograms (4,198 pounds) per 1,000 persons as of 2019. China, ranked second, had 1,000 people eating 1,230 kilograms of crabs.

“We have reached out to authorities in Italy to begin talks on blue crab imports,” the head of a marine products importer in Incheon told Yonhap on Thursday.

Some importers reportedly have already landed deals with Italian vendors and are receiving preorders from customers here.

Korea is the largest crab consumer in the world in terms of crab consumption per capita. [LOTTE SHOPPING]
Korea is the largest crab consumer in the world in terms of crab consumption per capita. [LOTTE SHOPPING]

Korea’s marine ecosystem, like Italy’s, was invaded by a foreign species of crabs — the green mud crabs — in the 2000s. But unlike the Italians, Korean authorities tried to reproduce as many mud crabs as possible because their huge size and great taste had crab fans eating away the alien species.

Authorities in Busan, where the mud crabs are found, have succeeded in reproducing green mud crabs artificially in 2011. The Busan Metropolitan City regularly releases these crabs into its waters for capture.

Busan bans mud crab fishing between October and March to maintain crab numbers.

However, some industry sources doubt the potential success of Italian blue crabs in the Korean market.

“Italian vendors have to fish, sort out, store and ship the crabs,” said an executive of a crab importing company.

Considering Italy’s high labor cost, which is on par with Korea’s, the process will not be worth the trouble, he argued.

Blue crabs are much smaller than green mud crabs and are not as rich in flavor.

“Crabs caught domestically and imported from China are both relatively cheap. Italian blue crab imports will need to cost around 800 won ($0.6) per kilogram to have an edge over them,” said another crab importer.

BY SOHN DONG-JOO [sohn.dongjoo@joongang.co.kr]