As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. And it turns out to apply even to China’s famous hairy crabs. The dark-green crustaceans with wispy brown claw hair are an expensive specialty in China, much admired for their roe (see WiC127). But in Germany they are viewed as more of a pest. In fact, they’re being sold for as little as Rmb40 a kilogram – about the same price as Chinese cabbage.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the surge in Germany’s hairy crab population is triggering local alarm. The problem is that the crabs eat almost anything, posing a serious threat to the survival of local species. In particular they’ve been depleting eel stocks in German rivers. These “armoured animals” – as the newspaper Berliner Kurie calls them – are also notorious for damaging dams and even ruining fishing equipment.
A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that the Chinese invaders have already cost Germany $100 million in damage and destruction.
To plug some of the financial hole, the Germans have tried boiling crabs for soup or even feeding them to their animals.
More recently they’ve sold crabs to local Asian supermarkets and restaurants. Kindly Chinese merchants have been offering to help out too, shipping crateloads back to China, where crab can fetch about $25 a kilogramme, a huge multiple to the German price.
But how did the hairy crabs end up in Germany? Chinese hairy crab were first seen in Europe as early as 1900 with the first mention from Germany coming in 1912.
A later investigation by German academics found that crabs were first brought to Europe by merchant ships from China. But it’s not just Germany that is suffering. The River Thames in London also has its fair share, reporting its first visit in 1935. Hairy crab visitors have also made their way to parts of the US and Canada.
But it seems that the crabs have found Germany a particularly pleasant place to set up home. “In China, all the chemical factories and serious pollution of rivers has led to a declining number of hairy crabs,” says the Beijing Times. “On the other hand, Germany’s Elbe and Havel rivers have much cleaner water that are good for breeding.”
Back in China, crab prices continue to climb (they are normally ‘in season’ from September through to November). That’s partly due to rising incomes for crab-eating aficionados, but also because the local catch looks set to decline this year. Supply is going to fall after Typhoon Haikui damaged their main breeding grounds around Suzhou, says Guangzhou Daily.
In the meantime, the ‘Deutsche’ hairy crab looks like being added to Germany’s impressive list of China exports.
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