Mamomet intern Stella Moreno shows a green crab, right, compared to a native crab, left. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

 

BATH — Manomet, an environmental research organization, held a culinary event Wednesday aimed at finding tasty ways to eat green crabs as a way of both controlling and profiting from the invasive species.

Green crabs aren’t native to Maine and harm natural resources and other species native to the ecosystem.

“Green crabs will eat anything that moves in front of them,” said Chris Jamison, a fisherman of 16 years who is believed to be the first in the U.S. to sell green crabs. He listed baby lobster and soft-shelled clams as some of their favorite foods. They also destroy eelgrass, underwater vegetation that serves as a habitat and prevents erosion, on their hunts for clams.

An Asian noodle dish topped with fried soft-shelled green crab, made by Ali Waks-Adams, the new executive chef at the Coast Bar and Bistro at the Daniel Hotel in Brunswick. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

Green crabs are native to Western Europe and first came to the U.S. as stowaways in the ballasts of ships. According to a 2015 report from the Governor’s Task Force on the Invasive European Green Crab, the species was first seen on the Maine coast in 1905.

The green crab population grew exponentially in the 1950s, subsided, then reappeared with a vengeance in 2012 and have been an issue for fishermen ever since. During its three-year life cycle, a single green crab can leave behind 370,000 offspring.

According to Marissa McMahan, a senior fisheries scientist at Manomet, this ever-growing green crab population can be attributed to climate change: “The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans … and they like warm water.”

Jamison first got the idea to sell green crabs to restaurants while visiting Venice, Italy, where green crabs are considered a delicacy. McMahan and Jamison have both worked closely with Venetian fisherman to learn how to make green crabs another lucrative marine resource for Maine fishermen. Past efforts to eliminate the species include electric fences, trapping and poison.

“Even if we can’t reduce the negative impact, we can try to increase the positive impact,” said McMahan. “In other words, we’re taking an if-you-can’t-beat-’em,-eat-’em approach.”

This approach has helped slow the spread of other invasive species such as Asian carp in the midwest and lionfish in the south.

When Jamison first began selling green crabs to restaurants, he sold them for $3 apiece, totaling roughly $25 per pound. He said they were a hit.

“People couldn’t get enough of them,” he said. “Restaurants were actually upset when the season ended and I couldn’t get more.”

Ali Waks-Adams, the chef for the event and the new executive chef at the Coast Bar and Bistro at the Daniel Hotel in Brunswick, incorporates green crab into her dishes whenever possible.

“Part of being a local chef is helping the community as best as I can,” said Waks-Adams. “I’ve even been to schools and talked to kids about green crabs. They’re so invested in their future because everyone’s family is connected to the fishing industry.”

A featured dish at the event made by Waks-Adams was deep fried soft-shelled green crabs served on a bowl of Asian noodles.

“The crabs are so small, but they give off the most amazing umami flavor in anything you put them in,” said Waks-Adams.

Now that some demand for the crabs has been established, the next challenge is extending the soft-shelled green crab season, which is May through July.

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