Blue crabs threatened by oil spills in Venezuela

Fri Aug 5, 2011 9:54am EDT
 
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By Girish Gupta and Isaac Urrutia

MARACAIBO, Venezuela (Reuters Life!) - Venezuelan fishermen inspect their catch of blue crabs on the edge of Lake Maracaibo, concerned about the greasy oil stains covering their shells.

The crustaceans will be processed and shipped to seafood restaurants in Maryland and New York where they are considered a delicacy. But scientists and fishermen in the state of Zulia in northwestern Venezuela worry that the crabs may not be safe for consumption.

"The crabs are stained with oil," said fisherman Cesar Burgos as he weighed the day's catch in the fishing village of Barranquitas. "I don't know at what point it becomes harmful."

Pollution in Lake Maracaibo has been a problem for decades. In recent weeks the area has been blighted by several leaks from tangled pipes, corroding pumps and other oil installations that crisscross the lake.

"The main source of contamination by hydrocarbons is the oil industry," said Lenin Herrera, a chemical engineer and former president of the Institute for the Control and Conservation of Lake Maracaibo (ICLAM).

"If there is a discharge of oil, that does damage to important ecosystems in the lake."

The blue crabs -- whose Latin name Callinectes sapidus means beautiful, savory swimmers -- are distinctive for their violet-blue legs and claws. They are famed for their succulent, sweet taste.

Though not popular in Venezuela, 95 percent of the creatures will be shipped to the United States, where the best of the white jumbo lump meat sells for up to $40 per pound. Fishermen surrounding Lake Maracaibo will earn around $0.23 for each crab they catch.   Continued...

 
<p>Oil floats on the surface of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela's western state of Zulia July 7, 2010. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia</p>