Ashley Breault | Marketing Intern | Ocean Studies and Communications Student at University of New England
Green crabs are one of the many species you can find along the shore throughout New England, including the tide pools and rocky coast of Odiorne State Park. But did you know that they haven’t always been here? Green crabs, Carcinus maenas, are an invasive species, meaning they have found their way into a new ecosystem to which they are not native.
Invasive species can cause all sorts of problems in their new environment. Because they have no natural predators, they thrive, causing damage to the habitat and the animals that live there. Green crabs were originally found only along the Atlantic coast of Europe and northern Africa—the New England coast offers a similar environment. Since their introduction in the 1800s, most likely transported across the sea via ships, they have expanded their territory to the Atlantic and Pacifica coasts of the United States, Australia, South America, and South Africa.
Green crabs are relatively small crabs, growing no larger than 4 inches. While they are called Green crabs, they can vary in color, from brown to grey or even red. Their coloration depends on their environment and timing of molting. They can live in/on many different substrates, including mud, sand, rock, vegetation, and marsh, which makes the Northeast coast a very suitable habitat for them.
Green crabs eat shellfish like clams and mussels and if the crab populations continue to increase, they have the ability to deplete shellfish populations. This could mean no more fried clam rolls or steamers for your summer clam bakes! Rightfully so, shellfish industry workers of New England are worried about their livelihood if the Green crab populations continue to rise.
But what if instead of worrying about the food we won’t have with the increase in Green crabs, we focused on the food we can eat? Some fishermen and chefs have started to play with the idea of cooking invasive species and integrating them into our seafood cuisine. Chefs from Boston, MA to Portland ME, are starting to incorporate Green crab into their seafood dishes.
Because of their small size, the best way to cook Green crabs is to make use of the whole animal by eating them when they are soft-shelled; this makes the whole crab easily edible. Soft-shell crabs are crabs that have recently molted and have not yet grown their hard outer shell. Another option is making a stock out of the crustacean. This is the most common and easy method of using the Green crabs in cooking at this time because of the difficulty of finding the soft-shell crabs. But no matter how they are cooked, Green crabs are a delicious alternative to other crab species, and a great way to help our other fisheries and native species.
Deep-fried soft-shell Green crab anyone?