Green Crab Cookbook aims to develop culinary culture for invasive species

Published on
April 10, 2019

A new cookbook released in the United States by the nonprofit Green Crab R&D is aiming to change the invasive European green crab from a liability to a boon. 

European green crabs have been on the East Coast of the U.S. for over a century, but warming waters and milder winters have caused the species to steadily gain in population and territory in the last decade. Maine, in particular, has been feeling the effects of the small crustacean as the state’s soft-shell clam fishery gets hit hard by the crabs, which consume vast numbers of the mollusks. 

The effects have been reflected in the state’s landings of soft-shell clams. The harvest in 2017 and 2018 was the lowest two-year landings of clams in over 60 years. According to the Portland Press Herald, the state has been considering rule changes regarding the fishery that could potentially boost the state’s harvest by loosening size restrictions on the clams. 

A number of new organizations have been formed to try and combat the onslaught of green crabs. For example, last June the Green Crab Working Summit took place in Portland, Maine, bringing together fishermen, scientists and environmentalists from across the country as solutions were sought. 

Mary Parks, the executive director of Green Crab R&D, said that the working summit was a catalyst for the organization’s latest project: The Green Crab Cookbook. 

“Our goal as a non-profit is to do the research and development necessary to create a culinary market for green crab,” Parks said. “It was really after the green crab working summit that we intensified recipe production and development.”

Green crabs are already consumed as food in other regions of the globe, particularly in Venice, Italy, where the crabs are a native species. Venetian cuisine, said Parks, has long utilized green crabs in dishes, either soft-shell, shucked, or in a caviar dish known as Masinette. 

Parks and her co-author, Thanh Thai, used some of that culinary history, as well as cuisine in other areas of the world, to develop dozens of ways to cook green crabs. It also details how to shuck the crabs for caviar, shuck meat, prepare broth using them, how to prepare them Chesapeake-style, and includes numerous other methods of preparation.

“It really has been since that summit that me and my co-author Thanh have taken a deep dive in exploring the recipes beyond the basics,” Parks said. 

Getting people to eat green crabs so that a commercial fishery could be developed has been a goal for years, but a big obstacle has always been the lack of local knowledge about how to eat the species. 

“The first thing we’ve heard is ‘What? We can’t eat those,’” Parks said. The book was a response to that, showing that the crabs can be eaten, and can be made into plenty of delicious dishes, she said.

The book isn’t just a repository of recipes, it also provides an overview of why the crabs pose a problem, and what their ecology is like. 

“It specifically talks about declining soft-shell clam populations, and included them in a recipe,” Parks said. 

It isn’t just clam populations. Green crabs also pose issues for other native species in the area. 

“One of the huge issues with green crabs is not only do they actually eat small larval species of crabs, as well as lobsters, but they also compete with the same food sources,” Parks said. “So that’s a huge problem when you look at areas where green crabs would be eating all the food lobsters or crabs would be eating.” 

Slowing their impact on lobsters could be a big deal for Maine, considering it represents the state’s largest fishery by far. The lobster industry in Maine was valued at USD 484 million (EUR 429.3 million) in 2018. 

This summer, Green Crab R&D is working with some Cheseapeake producers who are familiar with molting blue crab, as well as some fishermen from Venice, to work directly with some local fishermen to hopefully create a small fishery in 2019. 

While the fishery won’t make much of a dent in the population, the hope is getting more green crabs on plates will eventually kick-start the creation of a new industry. 

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