Regarded as gourmet delicacies, mitten crabs from China’s Yangcheng Lake may start losing their place in autumn banquets to those bred in Taiwan, thanks to the proliferation of an aquaculture technique for breeding the species.
According to statistics released by the Council of Agriculture’s Fisheries Agency, the number of mitten crab farms in Taiwan increased by 40 percent from 180 last year to 250 this year, with most located in Miaoli County, Hsinchu County, New Taipei City (新北市) and Greater Taichung.
The annual harvest of locally bred crabs is expected to reach up to 203 tonnes and bring in between NT$800 million (US$26.73 million) and NT$900 million in revenue, the data showed.
The statistics also showed that the market price for Taiwan-bred mitten crabs is likely to rise. Crab prices are expected to increase to NT$2,500 per kilogram this year from NT$2,200 per kilogram last year. Mitten crabs weighing between 75g and 115g could be sold for NT$308; crabs weighing between 115g and 150g could sell for NT$500; those weighing over 150g could bring in NT$700; and those bigger than 190g could fetch NT$1,000.
The mitten crab farming industry started to boom in 2007 after crabs imported from China were repeatedly found to contain problematic levels of drug residues, Fisheries Agency officials said.
Last year, the Miaoli County Government embarked on a cooperation project with the China-based Shanghai Ocean University to develop crab breeding technology. Professor Wang Chun (王春) from the Shanghai university came to Taiwan to give guidance to 44 crab farms in the county’s Touwu (頭屋), Shihtan (獅潭) and Sanwan (三灣) townships.
“I am rather surprised to see Miaoli’s achievements in breeding mitten crabs, which have far exceeded my expectations. Some crabs here are larger and more appealing than those I have seen in China,” Wang said.
To see how they weigh up against their “Chinese counterparts,” mitten crabs bred in Miaoli are set to compete in the eighth Fengshou Cup, a hairy crab competition, held in Shanghai on Nov. 4.
“Taiwan’s mitten crabs will undoubtedly be on the winning side,” the county government said.
Although Taiwan’s crab industry is about 20 years behind China’s and Taiwanese farmers spend twice as much as Chinese farmers breeding the animals, Taiwanese aquaculture professionals still feel optimistic about the country’s competitiveness in the lucrative market.
“Chinese mitten crabs have been kept out of the Taiwanese market because they contain traces of drugs, which means Taiwan could easily gain a competitive advantage by producing superior quality crab,” said Lee Wu-chung (李武忠), a professor of agricultural economics.
Praising the high standard of quality control in the nation’s crab farms, the Taiwan Aquaculture Development Foundation’s chief executive, Chen Chien-yu (陳建佑), said that the Miaoli County government had implemented a transparent “tracing system” that certifies crabs that have passed strict testing for traces of 16 drugs.
“A laser anti-counterfeit label is then fixed to the claws of crabs that have passed the test as a guarantee of their high quality,” Chen said, adding that most locally bred crabs are raised in pure, contamination-free water from mountain sources.
Miaoli County Crab Farmers Association managing supervisor Fan Hsien-ta (范賢達), a Taiwanese businessman who was based in China’s Jiangsu Province for more than a decade, said that breeding mitten crabs requires good water quality. He said that since many crab farms in China are in less-than-ideal environments, they use antibiotics to boost the survival rate of crab larvae.
That is why there are concerns about drug traces tainting crabs imported from China, Fan said.
“While the quality of Chinese mitten crabs tend to be inconsistent, Taiwan-bred crabs may stand a good chance of making it to banquet tables in Hong Kong and Macao in the near future if the country develops a more sophisticated aquaculture technique and further boosts the crabs’ survival rate,” Fan said.
Additional reporting by Chung Li-hua