‘Ugly’ Snails, Once Ignored By Fishermen, Now a Prized Catch

In this Monday, May 23, 2016 photo, whelks rest in a container aboard a fishing vessel at a dock in Little Compton, R.I. The sea snails known by Italian-Americans as scungilli were once hauled from lobster traps and oyster dredges as an incidental by-catch. Now they're a prized commodity far beyond the Italian eateries along the East Coast, with much of today's East Coast catch shipped to Asia. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In this Monday, May 23, 2016 photo, whelks rest in a container aboard a fishing vessel at a dock in Little Compton, R.I. The sea snails known by Italian-Americans as scungilli were once hauled from lobster traps and oyster dredges as an incidental by-catch. Now they’re a prized commodity far beyond the Italian eateries along the East Coast, with much of today’s East Coast catch shipped to Asia. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

LITTLE COMPTON, R.I. (AP) — Cooking a channeled whelk is not for the squeamish. But sliced and sprinkled over a bed of linguine, it’s a chewy delicacy in old-fashioned Italian eateries along the East Coast.

The sea snails known by Italian-Americans as scungilli used to be such a niche market that fishermen ignored them when they turned up in lobster traps or oyster dredges.

Now they’re a prized commodity. Because of growing demand in Asia and the collapse of other industries, such as lobster, fishermen searching for something else to catch are keeping and selling the carnivorous marine snails.

Whelks caught in coastal inlets from Massachusetts to North Carolina are increasingly shipped to customers in China. In Delaware, they’re now the third most valuable fishery.

States have scrambled to set limits to prevent overfishing.

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