TESTING THE WATERS
PRODUCING THE NATION'S FIRST SOFT- SHELL GREEN CRAB HARVEST
Written by Mary Parks
After traveling to Venice several times, Jonathan Taggart has uncovered some of the secrets behind Venetian techniques for molting soft- shell green crabs or moleche. While the Venetian populations differ slightly from the invasive green crabs on Northeastern US shores, both groups molt at specific times. Recognizing the value of soft- shell crabs in the United States and rich culinary tradition of producing moleche, the Green Crab R&D Project has made it our mission to produce a soft- shell green crab harvest. The only caveat? New England isn’t Venice.
While genetic differences between ancestral and invasive populations are slight, the ecology of Venetian estuarine areas is radically different than across the pond on Northeastern marshes and shores. The populations molt at different times, with Venetian crabs molting in April and May and New England Invasive crabs molting in June and early July. There are also fundamental differences in fisheries culture. While New England commercial fisheries often strive to catch more efficiently with constant technological advancements, Venetian green crab fisherman (or molecante) rely on traditional fishing gears and arduous labor.
This spring Jonathan and marine biologist, Marissa McMahan got to work on developing methods for soft-shell green crab production. With a modern twist on Venetian technique, the pair began experimenting with supplies used in oyster aquaculture and lobstering.
“I have been working on the design for molting cage, with a separate lid, made out of 9mm plastic mesh oyster bags. They are less expensive and easy to work with compared to metal wire. The wooden runners protect the legs of the crab that can be easily broken off if the cages are accidentally slid along a surface, damaging the final product. Shock cord is used for closers, with cord handles, to make them easy to open and close. Three of them will fit in a standard Lobster crate. The cages are 15.5 inches by 25 .5inches, 3 inches high. The wooden Runners are about 1-inch high. The plastic lid works fine for single compartment cages, but is problematic with subdivided cages, because the plastic mesh has to be clipped down to the partitions to prevent the crab from visiting each other in the adjoining compartments. Metal wire mesh seems to be the best thing for making compartments.
We are using the cages to hold the very best of our imminent molt and pre molt crabs at lower densities. We have started to hold our larger quantities of average pre-molt crabs in higher densities in Lobster cars."
As the waters warm, the team is eagerly awaiting the molting season and has already produced a few early season soft-shells. To learn more about how to become involved with soft-shell green crab production, email firstname.lastname@example.org.