For Citizen-Scientists Who Also Love Seafood
What: A public meeting about producing an entirely new kind of seafood in New England, soft-shell green crabs.
When: Thursday April 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the cafeteria in the basement of Ipswich Town Hall.
Who’s invited: Everyone – Interested members of the public, fans of gourmet seafood, fishermen, seafood company people, and above all, citizen-scientists.
Why: You have a chance to help turn an ecological invader into a source of incredibly good seafood. To turn a minus into a plus! Non-native green crabs have invaded New England’s coastal waters and for the last few years have been marauding our wild clams and mussels. (That’s a huge minus.) Luckily for us, the crabs also have a plus – they taste great! – and in the spring most male crabs shed their hard shells. For a short time, they become soft-shells, and can be fried and eaten whole.
How: We have learned techniques from the traditional fishermen of Venice, Italy. For centuries, the Venetians have been producing soft-shell green crabs as a gourmet, highly-prized food specialty. With the support of the Ipswich town government and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, we are starting a pilot program to create America’s first crop of soft-shell green crabs this spring, from April to June, using what the Venetians have taught us.
What’s involved: At the April 6 meeting, there will be a brief but entertaining slideshow about artisanal soft-shell green crab production and how we will adapting the techniques here. Later in April, May, and June, volunteers will be sorting the crabs and putting those most likely to “molt” or shed their hard shells in saltwater tanks.
What’s in it for you: You could help make seafood history in New England. And, if you have an aquarium, or if you are willing to keep a floating trap in an estuary, you can cook and eat all the soft-shell crabs you create. Soft-shell crabs will also be featured at a public festival organized by Ipswich Breweries in May.
The big picture: The town of Ipswich and the state have paid for green crab trapping for the last few years, but those subsidies haven’t gotten clear results and are going to be phased out. What’s needed instead is a way for trappers and seafood wholesalers to make good money from trapping green crabs. If there’s good money to be made, there will be market incentives to trap, and eventually the wild green crab population will be suppressed, which will also help the clams and the mussels. Of the several ways of making great food from green crabs, soft-shell green crabs offer the highest per-weight profit potential. The best guess is, at the wholesale level, soft-shell green crabs will be worth between $10 and $20 per pound.
This is an experiment. Our goal this first year is simply to produce 100 lbs of softshell green crabs, and to learn whatever we can along the way. Will we succeed? We have absolutely no idea! But we think it’s worth a try, and so do the town of Ipswich and the state. And if you help, you could make a big difference.
Speakers include: Roger Warner and Jonathan Taggart of Green Crab R & D (a new nonprofit organization), and Ipswich Shellfish Constable Scott LaPreste. We will also have some live green crabs at the meeting, for hands-on sorting – and it’s easy, once you know how.