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One of my favorite indicators of spring is in full effect: the return of soft-shell crabs. I'd admittedly never checked for their sustainability level—until recently, that is, and hesitatingly, considering I wouldn't be able to indulge in them in good conscience if they were seriously overfished. But Blue Ocean Institute's new FishPhone made it too easy for me not to look it up. So I texted the numbers 30644 with the message "FISH soft-shell crabs." Then I waited for my verdict, which arrived about three seconds later: "blue crab (YELLOW) some environmental concerns; abundance varies with significant habitat destruction; HEALTH ADVISORY: High PCB and mercury contamination."
To crosscheck, I headed over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Regional Guides for the Northeast. The verdict there: Blue crab was on the "Good Alternatives" list—in between "Avoid" and "Best Choices"—but should be eaten sparingly due to mercury and other contaminant concerns.
Note: Unfortunately, my cell phone skills—and billing plan—don't venture into downloading territory, otherwise I would have tried Monterey Bay's new Seafood Watch Mobile, which offers the same information online, but in a more concise format for your phone screen.
What this all means: As much as I loved my first (and second) soft-shell crab of the season at New York City's Little Giant restaurant the other day—lightly fried and served with a bright, zingy salsa verde—I'll unfortunately be eating them sparingly.