The green crab is the most widespread crab species in the Mediterranean. Able to withstand considerable variations in salinity and temperature, it does particularly well in lagoon environments and shallow waters. Only in the lagoon north of Venice, however, is it the focus of a particular activity, somewhere between fishing and extensive farming: moeche harvesting. For at least three centuries, fishermen have been selecting moulting crabs. The crabs are caught with special fixed gillnets, positioned in the shallow waters of the lagoon. They are then carefully sorted in order to separate the boni crabs, which are ready to moult in a short time (one to three weeks), from the spiantani, which will moult within a couple of days, and from the matti, which will not moult again during the harvest season. The moeches have to be cooked alive. They are cut with a knife on the back and squeezed with the hands so that all the remaining water comes out. Then they are coated in flour and dropped into boiling oil. And it is here that the second metamorphosis takes place: from greenish, mushy beings they turn into crunchy, golden-red morsels with a sweet taste associated with seaweed and sea flavour.
This is a seasonal activity that follows the growth rhythms of crustaceans and peaks in the spring (April-May) and autumn (October-November). The term 'moeche' is used in the Venetian lagoon to indicate crabs in the moulting phase, when they lose their shells (carapace) and are tender and soft, hence the name.
The ideal environment for growing moeche is the Venetian lagoon, which with its sandy bottoms and salty and brackish waters lends itself well to the proliferation of this soft crustacean. The areas between Burano, Giudecca and Chioggia are then specialised in their breeding.