Both Trash and Treasure.

January 21, 2010

The Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir sinensi) is a textbook example of an invasive species that has a presence much more appreciated in it’s native habitat. Originally introduced to North America in the early 90′s, this species had slowly spread across the California region of the Pacific coast and the San Francisco Bay area. Speculation is that these crabs were first introduced on purpose. This is likely considering the actual value of these crabs in certain areas. There is also the possibility that the crab was introduced via ballast water from it’s native region, eastern Asia. The Chinese mitten crab acts as an invasive species by competing with the local fauna for resources. Being a burrowing species, they can also cause property damage, weaken embankments and clog infrastructural systems. The presence of these crabs could also interfere with the native crab fisheries, lowering income and posing pecuniary problems to the companies involved. There is no conclusive evidence that shows the crab will impact these fisheries negatively, but people are still concerned. In most of the areas in the US, owning, transporting or dealing in live mitten crabs is illegal. In California, mitten crabs are fair game fish, but under strict regulation.

While it is illegal in the US, people in China usually can’t possess this crab for an entirely different reason: it is prohibitively expensive. The Chinese mitten crab is considered a delicacy in Shanghainese cuisine and ordinary citizens shell out ridiculous sums of money in order to get their hands on a tiny, palm-sized specimen. Seeing as how this crab is one of foods that Anthony Bourdain sampled when he traveled to Shanghai for No Reservations, one can easily imagine the regard to which it is held by the native population. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the most prized part of the crab is the roe and the ovary. In the United States, the roe and ovaries of the crab are why we detest it. Across the ocean, the roe and ovaries are instead the reason for its lofty price. Considering this, I think the solution to the invasion is to develop a taste for the crab, like the Chinese have. With a market behind it, seafood companies will have more reason to invest time and money in catching and selling the delicious crab. The American public gets exposure to something new and the crab will no longer have a rampaging population. A rare instance of capitalism working in tandem with environmentalism.