The Green Crab has been disrupting New England ecosystems and consuming commercially important species like oysters for years. As oceans have warmed, their populations in New Hampshire waters have exploded.
Some scientists now believe one way to stop them is to make them something people want to eat.
Gabriela Bradt is the Fisheries Specialist at the University of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Sea Grant. She’s been studying the crabs as a potential emerging fishery. She sat down with All Things Considered host Peter Biello to talk all things crab.
Scroll down for a green crab broth recipe
So tell us about these green crabs. Are they as tasty as crabs we might more commonly experience in restaurants?
They are a slightly different taste. So I like to compare it to chicken vs. rabbit. It's a little bit sweeter, a little bit gamier and you don't need a lot of them to get a pretty big bang of flavor.
So in that analogy, it would be the rabbit. How did you get interested in studying green crabs?
It was pure serendipity. I was down at the docks in Portsmouth and I was talking to one of our local lobster men and I had a colleague with me from Louisiana. And we are just trying to figure out, what are some of the lobster industry needs? Is everything going well? Just checking in. And he's pulling up a trap and he says "Everything's going great. But, you know, it's really annoying. I wish you could fix it would be to get rid of these stupid crabs as they are everywhere. I can't sell them. They get into my traps and they're just a nuisance. You know, there should be some something to do with all of this biomass." And my friend is from Louisiana. And he said "Well, you know, they have that blue crab, soft shell, blue crab thing down south. Maybe you could do something similar to that with the green crabs. They're a crab, they molt. So I'm sure there's a soft shell version of it." And I got to thinking about it like, well, that would be kind of an interesting idea, in terms of getting fishermen involved and coming up with a new seafood product, as well as helping to mitigate some of the invasiveness of them.
As far as I understand, it's better to find the crabs when they're in their soft shell stage. They can be cooked whole that way?
They can. So they are smaller crabs. So if you were to pick them, you would barely get a small crab cake. So the reason we want them as soft shells is that you can actually eat the whole organism. So with that, then you have a higher quality product. And whereas with the hard shells, there's not much use for them other than to help with making soups or broth.
What we're trying to do with New Hampshire Sea Grant and our research is we're trying to figure out timing of when the molting peak is for males and females. It's a little bit offset. And the idea is to go and harvest the wild crabs that are pre molt or about to molt and then separate them out and then hold them in tanks and wait for nature to take its course and for them to molt.
And then you quickly scoop them up and store them in a Tupperware container. So we've made crab condos so we can individually house the ones that have molted so that they don't get eaten by their comrades.
They eat each other?
Yes. They are cannibal crabs.
Crabs so tasty they eat each other!
So in Venice, these green crabs are considered a delicacy. So to get restaurants in New England on board, what do you have to tell them about the green crabs?
Well, we're really lucky here in Portsmouth and the Seacoast area because a lot of our chefs are very, very interested in things that are locally harvested. And so I don't have to have too much of a sales pitch. As soon as I say, hey, if we can put these on our on your plates or on your menus, you're not only being eco groovy, but you're also helping to promote another seafood product that would be environmentally friendly.
Groups that have been pushing the green crab as a potential new item on the surf side of the surf and turf menu have dubbed this Green Crab Week. So that runs through Sunday. What events as part of Green Crab Week are you looking forward to?
So there's a few. We have a few restaurant partners that have green crabs featured on their menu. One is the Black Trumpet in Portsmouth doing a green crab bisque. And so I kind of want to go taste that one as well. But then the Joinery in Newmarket is also doing a Pollock with green crab. Fried rice, basically. The other stuff that we are looking forward to is part of our Citizen Science Monitoring Program as part of New Hampshire Sea Grant. And it's called The Great Green Crab Hunt. We have them monthly to try and figure out where hot spots and high population densities are occurring along the seacoast. That's really fun because you're outside playing at the beach. So, yeah.
And what do you think the long term impact of those green crab hunts will be? Do you think people will just be more aware, that they'll be picking them out of the ocean themselves and thereby mitigating the impact of an invasive species?
We hope so. We hope that by engaging the public, we can raise awareness. And we also do a lot of outreach while we're out there teaching them about why the green crabs aren't as fun to have around.
Green Crab Stock Recipe
Find more Green Crab recipes here.