SOFT-SHELLS ON THE CAPE!

 

Written by Jamie Bassett

Jamie Bassett sorts “pre-molt” crabs in Chatham, Massachusetts. Photographed by Mary Parks.

Jamie Bassett sorts “pre-molt” crabs in Chatham, Massachusetts. Photographed by Mary Parks.

My name is Jamie Bassett and I’m a fisherman and the owner of Green Crab Nation, a green crab wholesaler based in Chatham, Massachusetts. This summer, my mission has been to determine whether or not a soft-shell green crab fishery can be established here on the Cape. In Venice, Mediterranean green crabs (a subspecies of our local & invasive European green crab) are cultivated and sold as soft-shells or for their caviar. Mediterranean soft-shell green crabs are known as “moeche” and are a delicacy that can command a market price as high as 100 Euros per kilo. Given that the US has been inundated by invasive European green crabs, could we use the same Venetian methods to produce local soft-shell green crabs? What price per pound, or better yet, price per piece could soft-shell green crab command? If the soft-shell blue crab is already considered a delicacy in the states, soft-shell green crabs just might have legs.  

Chatham soft-shell green crabs harvested by Jamie and Paolo. Photographed by Mary Parks.

Chatham soft-shell green crabs harvested by Jamie and Paolo. Photographed by Mary Parks.

I first learned about efforts to produce New England soft-shell green crabs at last year’s “Green Crab Working Summit” hosted by New Hampshire Sea Grant and Manomet. Marissa McMahan at Manomet had studied with the Tagliapietra family and was working with New Hampshire Sea Grant’s Gabby Bradt to produce local soft-shell green crabs under a NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant. At the summit, I also had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Taggart, a friend of Marissa’s who was the first to meet the Tagliapietra family on a trip to Venice. Jonathan, Marissa, and Gabby gave demonstrations on techniques for molting our green crabs and I was hooked. As a green crab fisherman, I had so many questions and knew that I had to connect with the Taglipietras. 

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Venice and study “moeche” production with the Taglipietra family. The Tagliapietras have been molting moeche for generations along the Venetian lagoon, a craft that requires extreme attention to detail and years of training the eyes to detect “pre-molt” signs. The ability to identify “pre-molt” crabs (crabs that are about to molt into soft-shells) is crucial for sorting and molting moeche. After long mornings of sorting crabs and evenings of incredible fresh seafood dinners, I left Venice excited to see if a soft-shell green crab fishery could be established here in Chatham. However, I wouldn't be without help since Paolo Tagliapietra was to join me on the Cape in a few weeks. 

I started setting up our soft-shell green crab system in early May. I had to find an appropriate location that was easily accessible and which could moor a floating base of operations. With the assistance and support of the Chatham Harbor Master Stuart Smith, I was able to convert my personal boat mooring into a float dock mooring for a limited time and this has worked out well. Once our location was established and Paolo joined, we were able to turn our attention to green crabs. Our goal was to catch as many green crabs as possible. In doing so, we would be able to look through volume. We baited and set our pots around June 6th but the crabs were running slowly from the get-go. We had heard time and time again that this was a particularly cold spring. Our pounds per pot were quite low and it was not until June 17th that we began catching a good volume of green crab. From June 17th to present, our pounds per pot have been steadily increasing. With that increase, we've had more product to work with and steadily hiked up moeche production.

Paolo sorts crabs in the Chatham Harbor. Photographed by Mary Parks.

Paolo sorts crabs in the Chatham Harbor. Photographed by Mary Parks.

After months of intensive work, Paolo and I have begun distributing our first soft-shell crabs. We’re thrilled to announce that in partnership with the Green Crab R&D Project, Manomet, and NH Sea Grant we will be hosting green crab tastings next week at Boston and NYC restaurants in celebration of Green Crab Week! On the 15th, we’ll be traveling to Brooklyn to serve up our soft-shells at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster (between noon and 2:00 pm) and Saint Julivert Fisherie (starting at 7:00 pm). Those in the Boston area will have an opportunity to try our soft-shells at Benedetto in Cambridge on the 19th at 7 pm (contact restaurant to reserve). These events will not only give hungry participants the chance to try our local soft-shells but will be a chance to learn about the emerging industry from Paolo, myself, and Mary Parks (ED of the Green Crab R&D Project). 

We’re so excited to see what the season brings and hope to see you at Green Crab Week. Stay tuned for updates!

- Jamie Bassett, Jul 10, 2019

Jamie holds a “pre-molt” crab on his dock in Chatham. Photographed by Mary Parks.

Jamie holds a “pre-molt” crab on his dock in Chatham. Photographed by Mary Parks.

 
Mary Parks