ASMI shines light on “ugly” crab problem at SENA

Published on
March 12, 2018

Alaskan crab suppliers and processors have long had an "ugly" problem, which they are now aiming to remedy with a marketing campaign launching at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, taking place 11 to 13 March.

Consumers and retail buyers often shy away from crab sporting different-looking shells than the bright orange color they are used to. These dark, spotted, or barnacle-attached shells are even called “ugly.” 

As a result of spotting, buyers are not willing to pay the same price for bairdi, opilio, and king crab, Tyson Fick, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told SeafoodSource.  Fick noted that the “ugly” shells can compose as much as 30 percent of the catch at certain times in the season, depending upon the stage of molting the crab is harvested.

“If there is a higher percentage of the darker-shelled crabs, it can impact the market,” Fick said. 

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute aims to shift buyers’ and consumers’ perception about so-called “ugly” crab to one that recognizes the crab meat inside the spotted or darker shells is just as tasty – and just as worth paying for – as any other crab coming from Alaska.

To that end, ASMI is launching a “Get Ugly” educational campaign at SENA, which includes a brochure explaining why some crab shells are darker in color, or have scars on the shell, and how the quality of the crab meat inside the shells is what counts.

In addition, the brochure explains, Alaska crabbers follow strict fisheries management regulations, ensuring crab are mature and can reproduce before they are harvested. 

“Some non-Alaska crab fisheries allow harvesters to mark their crab as ‘dark’ or ‘dirty,’ and are then released after being hauled onboard,” the Get Ugly brochure states. “In Alaska, this is frowned upon because a certain percentage of released crab will then perish.”

Michael Kohan, seafood technical program director at ASMI, told SeafoodSource the ‘Get Ugly’ campaign is intended to shine a light on the sustainable practices governing crab harvesting in Alaska.

“The appearance of the crab shell is a natural part of growing on the ocean floor and the molting process,” Kohan said. “The shell appearance has no effect on the taste of the crab meat or the quality. One objective of the campaign is to enlighten buyers in the foodservice and retail segments about this so that the value proposition is the same, regardless of shell appearance.”

Kohan said the disparity in shell color issue came to light at ASMI’s All Hands on Deck meeting, when crabbers and processors said they were concerned about the price disparity. The problem hits home for fishermen because all of the crab that are brought on board are factored against quotas, Kohan said.

“Bairdi was brought to our attention, but it does happen with all species across Alaska,” he said. “The industry wants recognition that they are stewards of the industry. We are able to have our observers on board, and have the most factual numbers for harvest that provide good management decisions.”

Victoria Parr, domestic marketing manager for ASMI, said the organization is starting the campaign at SENA, “because it's a who's who of the seafood world.” 

“We are going to be talking to our retail partners and our foodservice partners at the show,” she said. “They will tell us what their feelings are and how they think their customers are likely to respond to as well.”

Parr said she believes the campaign will be successful based on other similar campaigns, such as one urging consumers to eat “ugly” produce. 

“Consumers are sophisticated today. We see that in campaigns that are reducing waste like ugly produce,” Parr said. “The same message resonates with eating ugly crab. While they might look different than the market is used to on the outside, inside it is sometimes a better meat fill and equally delicious.”

Contributing Editor

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