There’s a certain type of crab that’s eating up more desirable seafood off the New England coast. The crab’s population could be thinned if commercial fishing operations harvested the darn things, but there’s no money in it. The solution? Figure out a way to make people want these crabs on their dinner plates.
Rising populations of green crabs — native to Europe — have been bedeviling Maine’s soft shell clam industry in recent years, reports The Associated Press, posing a tough challenge: They’re small and don’t have a lot of meat, making them unpopular with commercial fishermen.
They’re also resistant to many chemicals used to destroy such sea pests, and with each female capable of producing hundreds of thousands of offspring, they’re really good at increasing their numbers.
“They are hard to kill, and with the reproductive rate and the water warming, they are doing incredibly well,” Denise Skonberg, a University of Maine scientist told the AP. “If we don’t have any use for them at all, it’s hard.”
So in order to address the rising tide of unwanted crabs, she and her colleagues have ventured into the culinary world with a project to get these pests out of the water and onto the menu: They developed a recipe for crab empanadas — a fried dough pocket filled with minced meat, onions, corn, cayenne pepper, and thyme — and served it up to participants in a recent study.
According to their study published this year in the Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology, 63% of people on an 87-person taste testing panel said they’d “probably” or “definitely” buy the product if they could. Not bad for a sea pest, scientists say.
They hope commercial companies will be encouraged by consumer demand for such dishes and thereby, perhaps help Maine solves its pesky problem by harvesting the little guys.
“So by creating a value-added food product that people will enjoy, we can stimulate a green crab fishery,” Joseph Galetti, one of the study’s authors, told the AP.
The idea of turning an unwanted piece of shellfish into a culinary treat is nothing new. Lobster — now a cliché when joking about posh dining — was once thought of as a pauper’s food.
Who knows, maybe 20 years from now, some hip-hop star will be bragging on Snapchatstagrambook about eating piles of green crab in the back of her hover-limo.