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October 12, 2014


More about Mitten Crabs


In China, mitten crabs, also called “hairy crabs”, are widely distributed along the estuarine deltas, inland lakes and waterways as far north as the Korean Peninsula and as far south as the river mouths of Fujian Province.


In the north, the crabs are simply known as he xie or “river crabs”.  Further south, they are known as dazha xie, which literally translates to “big sluice crabs”, a name that reflects the traditional way of catching them in traps with bamboo sluices.


Yangcheng Lake has some of the best conditions for farming mitten crabs.  The lake’s water is unpolluted and relatively shallow with a hard, sandy bottom and lots of aquatic plants.


The Yangcheng Lake hairy crab has some distinctive characteristics: a shiny blue-green carapace, a fat snowy white belly, yellow hair on its legs and a pelt of hair on its golden claws.  In season, the female’s roe is creamy, golden and richly aromatic.


In the past, indiscriminate harvesting and farming crippled production and polluted the waters.  A timely recognition of environmental threats is now slowly reversing the crisis.  Crab farms are strictly limited to the eastern part of Yangcheng Lake with the rest protected by tough environmental laws.


In 2013, according to Yang Weilong, chairman of Suzhou Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association, 180,000 acres (728 square kilometers) of Yangcheng Lake were contracted to 1,000 qualified farmers.  The annual harvest of Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs hovers around 2,400 to 2,600 tons per year.   National consumption of mitten crabs each year, however, is more than 300,000 tons.  Therefore, Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs account for no more than 1 percent of the total sold.


In Shanghai alone, 300 tons of hairy crabs are eaten every day during the crab season, which means the total harvest from Yangcheng Lake could be eaten in just eight days.  Most of the hairy crabs on the markets are “bath-tub crabs” or crabs from other areas, masquerading as Yangcheng Lake originals.  The bathtub crabs mainly come from Taihu Lake.  Just before the official crab season starts, Taihu crabs will be quietly transported to Yangcheng Lake and soaked in the lake waters for a week or two.  Some of the more unscrupulous vendors will even bleach the bellies of their crabs to meet the “snowy white” standard of Yangcheng crabs.


A few years ago, the Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association started to tag its crabs.  It took about a week before fake tags started selling on the Internet.


Shrimp News: For a great view of Lake Yangcheng, copy and paste its name into the search window of Google Earth (free but you must download it from Google) and then hit the return key on your computer.  Clear and shallow, your can see right to the bottom of the lake.  Zero in on it and you can see how the entire bottom is sectioned off for crab farming.  Then zoom out and look at the intensity of aquaculture and agriculture at the north end of the lake.  Amazing!


Source: (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service).  Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 1-781-861-1441, email  Chinese Traders Pass Off Hairy Crabs as Valuable Yangcheng Lake Product.  Michael Ramsingh (phone 1-732-240-5330, email  October 8, 2014.

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