From Problem to Plate — Green Crabs are on the Menu

Pickled Scup & Green Crab Vinegar rom Shipwright's Daughter (Courtesy of the author)

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Flip over any rock when walking the coastline of Connecticut and you’re sure to see them — Green Crabs scattering from their briny hiding spot like a nest of discovered spiders. No bigger than the size of a hockey puck, these small invaders are having a big impact on our coastline.

But their presence here is not exactly new. In fact, Green Crabs arrived in the Americas in the early 1800s. What’s changed is that warming ocean temperatures starting in the early 1980s lengthened the breeding season enough to allow their numbers to explode. Historically, Green Crab populations had been kept in check by their instinct to hibernate through the colder months.

So what’s the problem? According to the Gulf of Maine Institute, a single Green Crab can eat as many as 40 half-inch clams a day. While this tiny menace trolls the ocean floor in record high numbers searching for tasty filter feeders like oysters, clams and other keystone species of our marine environment, it simultaneously uproots vital aquatic habitat like eel grass forests in search for young and tasty pray, leaving ecological deserts in its wake. 

Mary Parks, founder of Greencrab.org is fighting back against the Green Crab revolution by finding ways of introducing Green Crabs to our diets and the next stop for this crustacean may be your dinner plate. 

“We’ve been hell bent on working with chefs, because the chefs are the ones who are willing to take the risks that change consumer opinions. Seeing how familiarity with Green Crabs as a food source has increased over the last four or five years is really exciting.” Says Parks. 

Green crabs (courtesy of the author)

A frequently used bait source for fishermen, one of the hardest stigmas Mary comes up against is the thought that Green Crabs don’t have enough meat on them to be a consumable product – that Green Crab aren’t food, they’re what food eats.

“It’s an uphill battle, but looking at other species we have a lot of hope. One hundred and fifty years ago Monkfish was considered to be a trash fish … lobster was a species that was only served to prisoners” Working with chefs like James Beard Award Semifinalist, David Standridge of The Shipwright’s Daughter, Mary is hoping to turn public perception from the top down. 

“We use about sixty pounds of Green Crabs a week in season,” says Standridge. “It’s really the best crab for making stock and highly prized in Europe. I remember when I was working for Joel Robuchon in New York City,  he always wanted Green Crabs for our crab bouillon and we could not get them.  They are the best crab for any kind of broth or stock. The fact that they are invasive and we can do something helpful while making something absolutely delicious is a win-win.”

Professional chefs can have an outsized influence on food trends, shaping the actions and tastes of their guests while also pressuring suppliers to carry products they develop markets for.  To that end, Mary and David are teaming up with Eating with The Ecosystem, and Stonington Kelp Company for educational outreach this spring.  

Standridge will be teaching a Chefs Master Class on cooking with Green Crabs and sugar kelp hosted by Tyler Anderson’s Millwright’s Restaurant. The class is free to professional chefs. 

You will also find this team holding court at the  2024 Groton Earth Day Expo on April 20th.  Parks is bringing interactive touch tanks and even children’s coloring books so people of all ages can familiarize themselves with Green Crabs. Chef Standridge will be conducting instructional demos on simple techniques used to prepare sustainable seafood, and serving snacks made with green crabs and sugar kelp.