Tunisia fishermen turn tide to cash in on blue crab menace

Tunisian fisherman catch blue crab on August 30, 2018 off the Tunisian coastal city of Zarzis. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2018
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Tunisia fishermen turn tide to cash in on blue crab menace

  • Tunisians have named the fearsome-looking blue crabs as Daesh
  • The blue crab, once a native of the Red Sea, first showed up in the Gulf of Gabes off Tunisia’s coast in 2014

DJERBA, Tunisia: Tunisian fishermen saw the blue crab wreak such havoc on their catches when it first appeared that they nicknamed it after the terrifying militants of the Daesh group.
But now — four years after these scourges of the sea invaded their waters — the predators have turned into prey as fishermen in the North African country cash in on the crustaceans.
Jamel Ben Joma Zayoud pulls his nets out of the water off the Mediterranean island of Djerba to find them full of blue crabs with their fearsome-looking spikes.
“Look, there are only Daesh, they’ve destroyed everything,” he says, using the term for the militant group that has become the crabs’ nickname.
The blue crab, once a native of the Red Sea, first showed up in the Gulf of Gabes off Tunisia’s coast in 2014 and immediately set about snapping up the rich pickings it found.
“It quickly became a curse,” Zayoud, 47, tells AFP. “It eats all the best fish.”
There are two explanations for how the blue crab, or Portunus Pelagicus, made it all the way to the shores of Tunisia, says researcher Marouene Bedioui, at the National Institute for Marine Sciences and Technologies.
Either their eggs were transported on boats to the region or they arrived as part of a lengthy migration that started when the Suez Canal opened in 1869.
However the crabs turned up, their impact has been damaging.
The hard-up fishermen along the coast, already struggling to make ends meet, felt the pinch as the crabs attacked their nets and the local fish.
“One thousand, one hundred fishermen have been hit by this plague in Gabes,” said Sassi Alaya, a member of the local labor union.
“Nowadays we change our nets three times a year, while before it was once every two years.”
In 2015 and 2016, fishermen demonstrated over the issue — and eventually the government took notice.
The authorities last year launched a plan aimed at helping fishermen to turn the pest into profit.
They were taught how to trap the crabs and the government began subsidising the cost of purchasing what was caught.
Plants popped up to freeze the crabs and ship them to markets in the Gulf and Asia where customers are willing to shell out for their meat.


Blue crabs investment
One of them is managed by a Turkish company — putting to use the experience it gained dealing with an influx of the crabs back home.
Each afternoon a line of refrigerated vans forms outside the facility delivering the crabs caught that morning from nearby harbors.
“When the crab appeared we didn’t know how to make money from it,” said Karim Hammami, co-director of the firm Tucrab.
“Tunisians didn’t consume it so the fishermen avoided catching it — but when investors came in and the authorities began moving we started targeting foreign markets.”
In the first seven months of this year, Tunisia produced 1,450 tons of blue crab worth around three million euros ($3.5 million), the ministry of agriculture says.
For those making their livelihoods from the sea, the transformation has been stark.
“The situation has completely changed,” said fisherman Zayoud.
He has now started going after fish with his nets, and crabs with cages.
So succesful have the fishermen been that they are now even planning to limit themselves in order not to deplete crab stocks too much.
And even they have got a taste for their former foe.
For their lunch, Zayoud and his crew select, cook and tuck into a healthy male crab.
“Daesh eat all the best fish,” explains the fisherman.
“So their meat has to be delicious.”


Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

Updated 25 min 23 sec ago
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Flight attendant detained by immigration on return to US

  • Selene Saavedra Roma immigrated illegally to the US from Peru as a child and was later married to an American citizen
  • Enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers”, she flew to Mexico for work and was detained due to lack of valid document

WASHINGTON: A Texas flight attendant who was enrolled in the government’s program for “Dreamers” flew to Mexico for work and was stopped by immigration authorities who forced her to spend more than a month in detention, her attorney said.
Selene Saavedra Roman, 28, who immigrated illegally to the US as a child, was released Friday from a detention center in Conroe, Texas, according to a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Originally from Peru and married to an American citizen, she raised concerns with Mesa Airlines about her immigration status after being assigned to an international flight, attorney Belinda Arroyo said.
The airline assured her she would be fine, but she was stopped by US authorities on Feb. 12, when she returned to Houston, and was sent to detention, where she remained for more than five weeks, Arroyo said.
Soon after her lawyer, her husband, the airline and a flight attendants’ group publicly demanded her release, Saavedra Roman called to tell her husband she was getting out.
“She was crying and she said, ‘Please come get me,’” her husband, David Watkins, told reporters.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency was looking into her status. Earlier, the agency said Saavedra Roman did not have a valid document to enter the country and was being detained while going through immigration court proceedings.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services — the agency that oversees the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — declined to discuss the case. But the agency says on its website that participants who travel outside the country without a special document allowing them to do so are no longer covered by the program.
The agency no longer issues the document to the program’s enrollees, according to the website.
People enrolled in the program are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.
The Trump administration sought to end the Obama-era program but was blocked by litigation. New applications have been halted, but renewals continue for hundreds of thousands of immigrants already enrolled.
In a joint statement with the Association of Flight Attendants, Mesa Airlines chief executive Jonathan Ornstein apologized to Saavedra Roman and asked US authorities to release her, arguing that it was unfair to continually detain someone “over something that is nothing more than an administrative error and a misunderstanding.”
“She should have never been advised that she could travel,” Arroyo said. “It was a big mistake.”
Saavedra Roman — who is scheduled to appear before an immigration judge in April — attended Texas A&M University, where she met her husband.
Watkins said he was not initially worried about her assignment because they already obtained approval from Citizenship and Immigration Services to apply for her green card as the wife of an American citizen. She has no criminal record and has long paid her taxes, he said, and she checked with her employer before the trip.
Then she was detained. He could visit her only once a week and could only see her through thick glass. She sounded hopeless, he said.
“I told her, ‘Even if you get deported to Peru, I’ll just go with you,’” he said to reporters. “Regardless of whatever happens in the future, I am not giving up. I am going to keep fighting.”
In a statement, the union representing Saavedra Roman and her colleagues said the event “highlights the urgency of commonsense immigration reform and resolution for America’s children who are part of DACA.”