Britons urged to eat alien invaders

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The Independent Online

Scientists at the Natural History Museum have come up with a novel way of defeating an aggressive alien invader spreading across Britain - eating it.

The Chinese mitten crab - once famously likened by John Prescott to his arch-enemy Peter Mandelson - is seen by naturalists as one of the country's most threatening exotic animals.

A voracious and omnivorous species, the mitten crab arrived in Britain in the ballast of ships in the 1930s, but over the last 10 years its numbers have suddenly exploded. Able to walk for miles overland, it has taken over the Thames and Medway estuaries and colonised rivers as far north as the Tyne and westwards into Devon.

Hundreds of thousands of mitten crabs have spread up the Thames, out-eating native crayfish and weakening river banks and canals by burrowing into the soil. Some experts even claimed they were undermining the Millennium Dome after spotting scores of holes in the banks of the Thames nearby.

But the mitten crab is a delicacy in the Far East, commanding high prices in restaurants in Japan and Hong Kong. It is flown to London by the crate-load for the capital's Chinese restaurants, which pay importers £6 a pound.

Professor Phil Rainbow, head of zoology at the museum, said eradication tactics such as snaring, shooting or poisoning were pointless. Instead, writing in the Institute of Biology Journal, Professor Rainbow and two colleagues have urged fishermen to catch and sell the crabs.

"The marketing of the crabs for the culinary trade might offer some salvation," they write. "There is potential for commercial exploitation."