Mafia mussel: the fight to save a mollusc from the mob

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As poaching of date mussels wrecks Naples’ reefs, police joined biologists to find the gangs behind it

After a three-year investigation into two organised crime groups in Italy’s Campania region that included wire taps, surveillance and nearly 100 suspects, police cracked down with a dozen arrests in March – not for offences linked to drugs or prostitution, but for the illegal harvesting of a small mollusc.

Known as date mussels, Lithophaga lithophaga are cigar-shaped shellfish that make their homes inside limestone, secreting an acid that slowly carves out a tunnel in the rock. They take decades to grow – anywhere from 18 to 36 years to reach just 5cm in length – and can live for more than 50 years.

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