In Caen-en-Roussillon, the blue crab has destroyed the eel catch

The sun is just rising, and the fisherman is ready to set sail in his small flat-bottomed boat: Jean-Claude Pons, accompanied by his dog, will pick up the nets laid a few days ago a few hundred meters from the shore. For more than thirty-five years he fished for eels in the coastal pond of Canet-en-Roussillon, separated from the sea by a thin border of dunes, a little south of Perpignan. But today he is going to receive about twenty crabs that he was ordered by a private person.

Jean-Claude Pons comes to collect the blue crabs that have been caught in his traps.  Caen-en-Roussillon, Pyrenees-Orientales, September 8, 2022.
Blue crabs collected by Jean-Claude Pons.  Caen-en-Roussillon, Pyrenees-Orientales, September 8, 2022.

Having reached the height of the net, the fisherman with a weathered face pulls the first circle of his net, something like a net pipe several tens of meters long, along which the eel can continue to move without breaking away. He pulls out the crabs with his bare hands and returns the net to the water. He could take a hundred, two hundred, perhaps a thousand. The net was full of crabs. But he won’t. What’s up ? Throw them in the pile, like the previous ones? His profession is primarily an eel.

Funny eel catches

The blue crab was first discovered in the pond in 2017. It is a crab native to the American Atlantic coast and probably crossed the Atlantic in the ballast tanks of cargo ships. Since then, the animal has devoured everything in this pond, which is about 4 kilometers long and the depth of which never exceeds 1 meter: eels, as well as other species – soles, wolves, mullets. Caen-en-Roussillon is not the only colonized place. In Spain, arthropods have completely invaded Ebro delta. Today, it gradually rises along the Occitan coast, reaching the ponds of Lecate and La Palme in Oda. For two years, he was also present in the pond of Bigulia, in the eastern part of the Corsican plain. But it causes the greatest damage precisely in the Canet-en-Roussillon pond.

Yves Rouget holds a blue crab in his hand.  Caen-en-Roussillon, Pyrenees-Orientales, September 8, 2022.
Blue crabs collected by Jean-Claude Pons.  Caen-en-Roussillon, Pyrenees-Orientales, September 8, 2022.
Jean-Claude Pons observes the damage to the blue crabs in the pond on his nets, which are used to catch eels.  Caen-en-Roussillon, Pyrenees-Orientales, September 8, 2022.

Traditional small-scale fishing pays. For decades, Jean-Claude and four other fishermen made a living by catching eels, which they did from September to December and from March to May. Sometimes they could pull 100 kilograms of fish from the pond, bought by a fishmonger from Port-la-Nouvelle to supply the Italian, Spanish or Dutch markets. But at €6 per kilo, it takes a lot of peaches to make a profit. However, the current catch is ridiculous, to the point where the wholesaler no longer travels.

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Five men tried to mobilize the state authorities. In the spring of 2022, a €400,000 plan was funded in equal shares by the state and the region of Occitania to reward fishermen for removing crabs from the pond and to finance research into the reasons for their reproduction.

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