Islanders urged to eat spider crabs as stocks surge

Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38115922)

SPIDER crabs may not look particularly appetising, but fishers are urging Islanders to include the spiky species in their diets after stocks have surged in recent months.

An influx of swarms on Jersey’s shores caused concern in 2022, with environmentalists saying the species had been attracted to warmer waters caused by climate change.

The large and aggressive crustaceans destroyed shellfish farms in Normandy and Brittany, and meant that Jersey Oyster Company decided not to seed mussels for several years.

Environmentalist and JEP columnist Bob Tompkins said the species had destroyed a “viable mussel farming industry” in the Island – but Chris Le Masurier, from the only company to produce mussels locally said he was going to try to revitalise the activity this autumn.

Government of Jersey head of marine resources Francis Binney confirmed that recent years had seen “regular, large catches [of spider crabs] in pots and nets”, but stressed that migration around this time of year was normal.

Gabby Mason, of Jade-S Fisheries, said the “prolific” and “aggressive” species was becoming a mainstay.

She said: “They are getting more in number, but our waters are changing and we have to adapt to that.

“It does affect some forms of fishing. For example, they can be a pain to net fishermen who struggle because there’s a lot on the ground, but it’s just part of the season.

“And it is a bit of a pain for some fishers as these crabs are not worth much money. We’re slowly trying to grow markets and business and create a product out of them.

“That’s what we’ve been doing for the last few years to educate and change people’s eating preferences. We are trying to tell people that brown crab is a winter crab and not as available in the summer.

“People have lost touch with food and seasonality, what is local and when. We would really encourage locals to eat more of them and choose more of the stunningly beautiful yummy crabs. It would be such a brilliant switch.

“All the time, people turn their nose up at spider crabs and [complain] when we increase the price of it, but it costs a lot to catch, keep, pick and process it.”

She referred to schemes in Norway which encouraged people to eat seasonal forms of seafood which were in abundance rather than “fashionable” forms of fish.

Jersey Fishermen’s Association president Don Thompson echoed those sentiments, saying: “Because the market is bad, we’re throwing them back into the water, which is a shame.

“The stocks are very strong at the moment, and it throws the balance out.

“One of our really good mainstay fisheries for the catching sector has always been lobster, but when there’s a vast amount of spider crab, lobster can’t compete.”

Mr Tompkins said: “The crabs are taking advantage of the warmer waters. We have them inshore for much longer periods of time and all year round.”

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