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Invasive green crabs are threatening local species. The solution? Eat them

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

To save the crabs, you got to eat more crabs. Well, let's not oversimplify, but invasive green crabs have been increasing on the West Coast for more than 30 years, and researchers say the population of these European shellfish now threaten local species like the celebrated Dungeness crab.

What to do about the green crabs? Shon Schooler says catch and cook. He's the lead scientist of the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and joins us now from Charleston, Ore. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHON SCHOOLER: Hello. Happy to be here.

SIMON: So what puts this crab crisis at a tipping point?

SCHOOLER: Well, we've been recording the numbers for 20 years in Oregon, and we're finding now that the numbers are going up each year since 2016. So seems like we're there now, and we have to think about what we're going to do about it.

SIMON: Why can't the green crab and the Dungeness just get along?

SCHOOLER: Well, unfortunately, they like to eat each other.

SIMON: Oh.

SCHOOLER: When the Dungeness crabs are large, they'll eat the green crabs. And when the Dungeness crabs are small, the green crabs will eat them. And so we have two different crab species in the estuary that are both predacious, and they will eat each other.

SIMON: Well, tell us about the recommendation that comes down now to catch and cook.

SCHOOLER: Well, we think about, how do we control an invasive species? There's many ways to do it. Sometimes we try to eradicate them, which is not possible in this case because they're coming in from the outside into our systems, so we can't actually control them that way. And we can use other ways, like bounty systems or do continuous trapping, which other people do. But since they are edible and there are fisheries in Italy and in Portugal and they're building them along the East Coast, we figured why not let people know about the problem? And now that they're in high numbers, they're easy to trap and they're easy to catch, and they're easy to eat, to prepare.

SIMON: Have you eaten a green crab?

SCHOOLER: I have not eaten a green crab yet, but I do have some recipes on my mind. The only problem with them is that they don't get as large as our Dungeness crabs, and we like to - we like easy eating, right? We like to have a big crab that we can crack open and eat the meat out of the claws. And...

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

SCHOOLER: And the green crabs just don't get that big. But there are other recipes for it. You can do soft-shell crabs like they do on the East Coast with blue crabs. You could do a soft-shell when they molt or use them for stock. And, of course, you can pull the meat out. It just takes more effort.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you have any idea what they taste like as compared to a Dungeness, which, of course, is famous for its savory flavor? And by the way, I've got to tell you, if you tell me it tastes like chicken, I will ask to see your academic credentials, but go ahead, yeah.

SCHOOLER: I do not think they taste like chicken, but I've heard they taste like other crab species. And so I don't know if they're quite as savory as Dungeness, but I've had - and colleagues on the East Coast that they taste just as good as a blue crab out there. You know, they're not a bad-tasting thing.

SIMON: Any recipe in particular you're eager to try, Mr. Schooler?

SCHOOLER: Actually, another colleague of mine is, this week, going to try to put it on pizza.

SIMON: (Laughter).

SCHOOLER: And so - in your (ph) green crab pesto pizza. And I think the ramen - there's a ramen recipe that I'm really excited about that just uses the broth of the crabs.

SIMON: And along with noodles.

SCHOOLER: Yup.

SIMON: So it's ramen noodles and crab broth.

SCHOOLER: That's right.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. Have any idea how many people would have to start eating green crabs to make a dent?

SCHOOLER: Well, even one crab, theoretically, is causing problems, so any crab that you eat has some effect. Probably, you would need to remove several thousand a year from the estuaries to really reduce the impact. We don't really know what that number is yet, but certainly, I mean, it can't hurt.

SIMON: Shon Schooler, who is a lead scientist at Oregon's South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and a gourmet, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHOOLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.