Skonberg has little doubt there is enough Jonah crab by-product and whole green crabs to support new or expanded industries in Maine and beyond, and her research focuses on making that possible.
“Here we have this invasive species that is eating clams and oysters, and bait out of lobster traps. It’s not good for our fishing industry,” says Skonberg. “But if we can use them as a food resource, we could develop an industry.”
Freeing meat from these small, pesky crab shells requires mechanical extraction equipment originally developed for the poultry industry. The cooked green crabs are tossed into a giant hopper and the extractor grinds them under high pressure, separating the meat from the shell.
The result is what Skonberg describes as a crabmeat mince or paste that, while visually unappealing, has the same taste, fat content and nutrient values as the pre-extracted cooked crabmeat.
In UMaine’s Consumer Testing Center, Skonberg and graduate student Joseph Galetti have conducted consumer taste tests to determine a viable use for the crab mince. The winner was a crab empanada using the mince as a filling, similar to the traditional South American variety with a spicy beef mixture. More than half of the taste test participants indicated they would purchase the value-added product if sold in stores.
But don’t go running to the nearest supermarket just yet. The crab empanadas proved there could be a food product use for the invasive green crab, but there’s got to be a market if there is ever going to be an industry based on the species.
“Fishermen can catch the crab, but they need to have someone willing to buy them,” Skonberg says. “In order to buy them, people need to have an end market established.”