Green crabs get their name for their color, but the invasive species may soon be associated with dollar bills, too. Chefs, fishermen and entrepreneurs in New England are meeting this week at the Green Crab Working Summit in Portland, Maine to discuss the growing green crab population in New England waters, particularly the Gulf of Maine, and how to turn the crustaceans into a viable commodity. The two-day event ends Thursday and includes a cooking demonstration and green crab tasting.
Green crabs are harming the New England community in a number of ways, preying on such species as soft shell clams--an important export for New England's aquaculture--and destroying coastal shoreline habitats by burrowing and uprooting underwater grass. While the crabs are not new to New England waters, their population is growing due to warmer water temperatures caused by climate change.
"It's definitely becoming more of a problem as they increase in abundance," said Marissa McMahan, the senior fisheries scientist at Manomet, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that focuses on conservation, science education and helped organized the summit. "In 200 years we haven't figured out how to mitigate this problem through traditional invasive species eradication methods, so what if we try to build an industry as a way to control and reduce the population?"
McMahan said the idea for the summit started two years ago when researchers and scientists from several institutions formed a network to come up with ways to use the crabs. For instance, researchers at the University of Maine are making a minced product out of green crabs and using it in dog food, while scientists in New Hampshire are using them for lobster bait.
Entrepreneurs and chefs have already found success turning the problem into a business opportunity. Jamie Bassett runs Green Crab Nation, a volume supplier of live crabs based in Chatham, Massachusetts, and got into the business around two years ago when he noticed the invasive species was an under-utilized and less costly option for fishing bait. Basset declined to disclose revenue information.
Bassett said replacing horseshoe crab bait with green crab is a more affordable option for fishermen and a short-term solution for dealing with the invasive species. He added that a longer-term solution is bringing the green crab to the culinary market. However, one of the challenges is raising awareness. "It's not at the level of fried clams yet," Bassett said.
While green crabs are smaller in size than most served at seafood restaurants--they can range between two and five inches--they are just as tasty as other crab species and equally easy to catch.
Ali Waks, the executive chef at the Brunswick Inn near Bowdoin College in Maine, is one of the entrepreneurs experimenting with green crab flavors. She's prepared green crab stock, rhubarb kimchi with green crab dust and even created a green crab Rangoon.
"You take anything weird and you mix it with cream cheese or mayonnaise and somebody is going to want to eat it," Waks said. "Probably one of the most important things I'll be doing in my food life is helping science find ways to eat these f---ers."
Waks gets her green crab supply from McMahan and has been working on recipes that are approachable to customers. She says many of her creations are either incorporated into her catering business or on the menu of the Brunswick Inn, which hosts a prix fixe dinner for the public on Tuesday nights. Due to the prix fixe menu, Waks wasn't sure how the crab was selling but said customers are eager to do help diminish the population, even if it's by slurping down soup.
"When I put green crab on the menu people were really excited by it," Waks said. "People in Maine are very connected to their food sources and the fishing industry."
As of now, plenty of green crabs scuttle about the Gulf of Maine but not enough people are scooping them up. McMahan said one of the main goals of the summit is to connect wholesalers with fishermen so when they catch green crabs they can easily distribute their haul.
"We are trying to prove these products have value and really hope that somebody catches on," he said. "We are trying to strengthen and diversify the fishing opportunities too, and green crab is one way to do that."