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Your stomach may be the best hope for saving Maine's fishing waters.

Mike Pomranz
June 20, 2017

If a problem can’t be solved with your head, why not try solving it with your stomach? That’s the takeaway from a new study by a group of researchers from the University of Maine. When more conventional methods to try to eliminate a sea pest known as “green crabs” failed, they decided to advocate an extremely underutilized scientific approach… the empanada!

The title of their paper “Mechanical Separation of Green Crab (Carcinus maenas) Meat and Consumer Acceptability of a Value-Added Food Product,” might not sound like a classic recipe out of a Julia Child cookbook, and of course, it isn’t. But the study, published in the Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology, did scientifically prove a point: People were willing to eat green crabs when prepared in the right way – such as an empanada. These findings are important because green crabs have been the bane of Maine’s softshell crab industry, and the problem is only getting worse. These invasive predators native to Europe have become increasingly abundant as Maine’s coastal water temperatures rise. And they are resilient little buggers, able to bear the cold, survive sea pest-killing chemicals and reproduce in the hundreds of thousands from just one female.

But the “little” part is what makes green crabs so unappealing as food. They don’t have much meat, and as a result, fishing the crabs wasn’t very lucrative. Still, by using mechanical separation and the right presentation (as far as we’re concerned the empanada is always the right presentation), researchers thought they might be able to convince people to grub on this pest which, in turn, would encourage fisherman to fish for them. “I chose the green crab specifically because it was local; it was a project affecting the state of Maine,” Joseph Galetti, one of the paper’s authors, told the Associated Press. “So by creating a value-added food product that people will enjoy, we can stimulate a green crab fishery.”

The proof is in the pudding – or more accurately, the fried pastry. The study gave the empanadas – stuffed with minced green crab meat, onions, corn, cayenne pepper and thyme – to 87 taste-testers and found that not only did most people like the dish to some extent, but “63% of respondents indicated they would ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ buy the empanadas if available locally.”

“They are hard to kill, and with the reproductive rate and the water warming, they are doing incredibly well,” said Denise Skonberg who also worked on the paper. “If we don’t have any use for them at all, it’s hard.” So to hell with eating your fruits and veggies… Chow down on crab empanadas… For science!!

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