Chinese mitten crabs have burrowed into the beds of the beautiful canals of Bruges and are wreaking havoc in Belgium’s waterways.

The extent of the freshwater crab invasion was exposed after a single trap in the Flemish municipality of Grobbendonk caught 715,000 crabs in six months, twice as many as last year,

In Bruges, called the “Venice of the North” because of its iconic canals, a mitten crab was spotted strolling through the Graf Visartpark park with its hairy pincers held nonchalantly aloft.

The mitten crabs, so named for their furry claws, are listed as one of the 100 most invasive alien species in the world. They have no natural predators in Europe and compete with native species for food.


They destroy rivers and unbalance ecosystems by shredding and eating everything they find on river beds. They can even damage infrastructure such as dams or destroy fishing gear.

Plans for a second Flemish crab trap are underway. Once caught, the crabs, which normally live in coastal areas in Eastern Asia, are killed but the increasing numbers have meant that costs have soared.

Authorities are mulling over whether to try and sell the captured crabs back to China, where they are a culinary delicacy.  Live crabs are sold from vending machines in China and Ms Smet said the lock on the crab trap in Flanders had been forced by someone “interested in our catch”.

Selling the crabs would require private sector involvement. It is not clear that the crabs would be safe to eat but they could also be ground to make fish food.

The crabs are thought to have travelled to Europe from China in water taken on by ships as ballast. When the ballast water was emptied, the crabs were flushed out into European waters.