MAY 2018 CRABBY AWARDS
The May 2018 Crabby Awards, for excellence in the field, go to people from three different countries who have introduced us to the culinary and crab-handling techniques of Venice, Italy, where soft-shell green crabs are a traditional (and ultra-high-priced) food. The three winners are: Sophie St-Hillaire of the University of Prince Edward Island, who sought out the crab fishermen while on vacation in Venice, and who became the first to produce soft-shell green crabs in North America; Jonathan Taggart, a sculpture restorer from Georgetown ME, who learned of Sophie’s work, has traveled to Venice many times, and has evangelized not only soft-shells but other gourmet dishes incorporating crab roe; and Paolo Tagliapietra, son of one of the great green crab fishermen of Venice, who travelled to the U.S. at his own expense to share with us his centuries-old artisanal techniques. Their physical Crabby Awards, based on Icelandic 50-Krona coin (see below) will be handed out during happy hour in the June 6-7 Green Crab Working Summit. The June winner will get their awards then, too.
GREEN CRAB WORKING SUMMIT
The agenda for the Green Crab Working Summit in Portland, Maine, on June 6 and 7 is now online! Check it out! — and do register. A few scholarships covering the registration fee are still available. This is the one conference you don’t want to miss, as it will bring together leading scientists, activists, and seafood industry people under one roof and accelerate warp speed our collective understanding of this strange little crustacean species. Huge thanks to Gabby Bradt of New Hampshire Sea Grant and Marissa McMahan of Manomet for organizing this historic conference.
THREE MODELS: COPING WITH GREEN CRAB POPULATIONS AROUND THE WORLD
A) If you speed-scroll through this YouTube video of artisanal fishermen sorting through green crabs in Venice, Italy, where they are looking for pre-molts to turn into soft-shells, you will see them casually toss the rejects back into the waters of the lagoon. There, in Venice, they actually want the green crab population to flourish, so they will have plenty to trap in the following years.
B) Here on there New England coast north of Cape Cod, certain towns have been trapping green crabs by the ton, selling most of the catch to the bait trade but hoping to develop culinary markets so that trapping subsidies won’t be needed any more. We’ve achieved proof-of-concept on several high-end food products with delicious flavors … but as hard as we trap, we haven’t yet succeeded in driving the populations down.
C) In Washington State, just a few hundred crabs have showed up, but field teams have gone all out to make sure they don’t get established What gives with these radical differences between Italy, New England, and Washington State?
BUSTING OUT OF OUR KNOWLEDGE SILOS
We’re learning that not only do green crab populations vary genetically, but they also show huge differences in their ability to establish themselves in different coastal environments. And that we humans who have been working on green crabs have to an extent allowed ourselves to fall into narrow knowledge “silos” where we work in relative ignorance of others’ ideas.
Jeff Adams, the principal investigator of the University of Washington green crab team, was very interesting on that topic in a phone call, and pointed to work being done at Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco. A trapping program begun in around 2009 targeted a local population estimated to be 100,000 crabs, and reduced it to an estimated 8,000 by 2013. But success was illusory, and the population has skyrocketed back to more than 300,000. One of the leaders of the Stinson Beach project, Andy Chang of a Smithsonian invasive species research center hypothesized that the mesh size on the traps caught the larger crabs and removed them from the waters, and let the smaller crabs escape, and that the large male crabs themselves had been keeping the population under some kind of control by cannabilizing the young. This suggests that more efficient trapping will use a finer mesh to catch and keep the smaller crabs and the females … and would also involve letting the large trapped males go free.
At the very least, this is a fascinating (if unproven) hypothesis, and it will be great to talk about this at the June meeting in Portland Maine. For that matter, the dominant hypothesis that some of us have been operating under for the last few years – that we can control green crabs using market forces if we can figure out ways to sell them on a large scale as food — is also an unproven hypothesis. So, we’ll have a lot to talk about in Portland.
Anyway, that’s the news for May. Hope to see many of you at the June 6-7 meeting in Portland ME. Send in your nominations for future Crabby Awards, and any news you want to share.
- Roger Warner