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Defeating Invaders by Eating Invaders

Periwinkles
The periwinkle snail might look innocent, but it can destroy salt marshes by eating native species. (Photo: Joshua Brown)

In some biology classes, students read about invasive species. Last week, in professor Joe Roman’s course, Marine Ecology and Conservation, his students were eating them. 

Sitting in an elegant dining room at the Courtyard Marriot in downtown Burlington, his students tucked into a seafood feast prepared by chef Doug Paine —including boiled periwinkles still in their shells and a tomato bisque made with green crab. Both the periwinkles and the crabs are invaders from Europe and North Africa, causing havoc in marine ecosystems along the East Coast. 

“Eating invasives is a last resort,” says Roman, “and it’s delicious.” His students agree.

“I’ve never eaten periwinkles before,” says Bayla Fisher ’18 (pictured below), an environmental science major. “They’re kind of like clams.”

“The bisque is so good,” says Aubrey Pelletier, a sophomore zoology major, raising her spoon. “I expected more slimy stuff.”

Students enjoy periwinkles

Jacob Cioffi ’17 (below), an environmental science major, fearlessly tossed back some oysters, including a European variety. He enjoyed the whole menu, while he wondered whether it’s possible to “eat these species to extinction.”

Jacob Cioffi and class enjoy dinner

That is one of Joe Roman’s goals. “The key is to control the spread of invasives and to have a rapid response when they do,” he says. But eliminating them outside their native habitats by…chowing down? It’s a long shot, but Roman—a marine ecologist and founder of the website Eat the Invaders—does see how eating some invasive species, especially if people start to forage for them on their own, can be one of many needed responses. “Why not make a problem into a meal?” he says.

“This is a really cool class,” said biology major Julia Cline ’18 (below), adjusting her black napkin while slowly bringing another periwinkle to her mouth. “And the food is really good.”

Julia Cline enjoys periwinkles

Watch the Burlington Free Press coverage of the event: