Bob Wakeman, the Department’s statewide Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Coordinator, responded two years ago to a question by a citizen about the legality of collecting the invasive, but edible, Chinese mystery snail Cipangopaludina (Bellamya) chinensis for eating. A Department attorney provided the answer. Changing attitudes about food make this response as timely today.
This question prompts consideration of recent culinary developments. First, it reflects recent trends in food circles of people trying to do some good with their food practices. Some give credit to doing-good-through-eating to the Slow Food Movement, which started in Italy in response to the (invasive?) spread of fast food and the perceived decline of the nation’s fabulous cuisine. Slow Food promotes local cuisine as an antidote to fast food. Others also credit author Wendell Berry’s many writings on food and agriculture.
A Slow Food offshoot is the notion of becoming a “locavore” – a person that strives to obtain as much of her food as possible within a few hundred miles of home. This notion gained attention with ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan’s 2002 book Coming Home to Eat. Some claim that benefits from eating closer to home are that local foods are fresher, require less travel, and support neighboring farms and the local economy.
With the stage set, a new movement in slow, local eating has emerged. Some are seeking to do good by being an “invasivore” – a person that eats invasive species. A group of graduate students, many associated with AIS expert Dr. David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame, started a website, Invasivore.org, dedicated to promoting the eating of invasive species of many kinds, including, yes, mystery snails, as a way to control their populations and raise awareness of the problems posed by invasive species.
After careful consideration, the attorney decided that the capture of AIS for personal consumption was legal with a few caveats. First, snails or any other AIS should not be transported in water, but transport on ice is acceptable. Second, AIS must be transported in an escape-proof container to comply with AIS laws. Finally, AIS cannot be “transferred”, which means to buy, sell, barter exchange, give, receive, or offer to do any of these exchanges. In the end, the attorney recognized that eating an invasive species was a form of “disposal”, which is the “lawful discharge, deposit, dumping or placing of any invasive species into or on any land or water in a manner that prevents the establishment, introduction or spread of a disposed species.”
Although the poorly studied Chinese mystery snail does not appear to negatively affect native snail populations in Wisconsin, this species has been found to host parasites in other regions of North America and has the potential to alter the microbial portion of lake food webs with its powerful filter-feeding. Therefore, it is important that we stay vigilant in our quest to prevent its spread. So if anyone is interested in trying Chinese mystery snail cuisine as a means for “disposal”, check out Invasivore.org. May we suggest the mystery snail ceviche or the mystery snail fettuccine?