From the Elbe back to the Yangtze, German hairy crabs in hot demand

Online sellers are taking pre-orders for hairy crab, which originated from China, but now mainly exist in Europe

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:50pm

Hairy crabs that once originated in China and went on to infest German waters are now returning to the mainland as edible delicacies which can be purchased online.

Jiangsu Dadi Yuansheng Agricultural Product Company has begun offering pre-orders for the Chinese mitten crab on Juhuashan, a subsidiary of popular e-commerce platform Taobao. According to the site, which has already received over 12,000 pre-orders, the crabs were caught in the Elbe River, which runs through Germany.

Juhuashan is selling different bundles with varying numbers of male and female crabs for prices starting at 199 yuan (HK$252). This is a far cry from their usual price in the mainland where they can sometimes fetch 700 yuan (HK$887) a kilogram.

Also known as Shanghai hairy crab, the Chinese mitten crab has been slowly disappearing in polluted Chinese waters, although they are still caught domestically and sold. By contrast, the crabs are thriving in Europe, where they were introduced by traders during the Opium Wars. In Germany, the crabs are regarded as a menace and had been blamed for hunting local species and causing 80 million euros (HK$828 million) worth of damage to dams in 2012.

Despite this, Juhuashan is advertising the crustacean imports as “cleaner” than domestic crabs from the Yangtze River and says all purchased crabs will only be distributed on six days of “limited shipping dates” starting from September 11.

Juhuashan’s claim that it is helping the “Earth’s last pure hairy crabs … return to their roots” has attracted the attention of China's quarantine authorities. They say that they have not authorised permits for any agency to import the crabs back to China.

“This is the first time that there has been any talk of German crabs entering China,” Li Chunyang, an official with the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said. “We need the German side to provide materials regarding aquatic breeding and disease control… it is likely that the crabs might contain parasites or other harmful substances.”

Representatives from the Jiangsu Dadi Yuansheng Agricultural Product Company said that they had signed contracts with an unnamed German company to buy the crabs for sale in China, the Shanghai Daily reported. In the same report, the mainland’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it would meet with Taobao over the sale of the crabs. No other details were revealed.  

News of the crabs attracted hundreds of commentators on Chinese social media network Sina Weibo. Netizens were generally interested in the possibility of eating the crustaceans, but were sceptical of their authenticity and lack of government permits.

“What company would have the gall to sell these kinds of imported crabs without first getting approval from the authorities?” one Weibo poster wrote. “They’re scheming for profit… something about this smells of dishonest advertising.”