Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jul 2, 2011 09:55 AM

King Crab imported from Russia. Is it really bad to buy?

I was skimming my store ad earlier this week and saw they had King Crab for $9.99/ lb. As it has been around $20/ lb or more, I raced right down and bought 3 lbs for an all I can eat crab feast this weekend without even thinking twice about it. When I got home I noticed it was a product from Russia. While I had wished it was an Alaskan product to support our crabbing industry, the price was what drew me in.

Knowing a bit about King Crab, I know Russian crab is on Monterey Bay's avoid list, however I also know that King Crab from the Barents Sea in Russia is an introduced, invasive species and exploding in population so it seems like they would want to fish as much of them out as possible.

My question is this- Is Monterey's classification based on economics or sustainability? It seems like most of the same species of fish and seafood are listed as a good choice if they are domestically fished but are on the avoid list if they are not. Are they saying the U.S. is the only country that fishes responsibly or is it based on simply encouraging people to buy an American product? I am just trying to understand their position. Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The site itself clearly indicates: " "Seafood to "Avoid" are overfished and/or fished or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment."

    2 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      So why would fishing an invasive species be overfishing or harmful to the environment? The Barents has a large crab fishery. Should they differentiate between Russian Barents crab and Pacific crab which may have these issues? I know what the site says but does not make a lot of sense. Organizations may say lots of things if they receive federal funding. Not saying Monterey isn't a great organization but are they referring to just one part of their fishery?

      Also still confused by why some species listed as US are okay but worldwide are avoid. Is every other country in the world fishing in an uncontrolled way?

      1. re: LorenM

        Hey, I live on the Gulf of Maine. Once probably the richest fishery in the world, due to its unusual properties (it's not as fully and freely connected to the Atlantic as it would appear on the surface).

        It's not difficult for a rich fishery to be badly managed. Fisherman here still dispute reality.

      1. re: applehome

        Although the consolidation of the two threads is helpful, thus far the OP's question remains unanswered. Accepting Mr. Owen's concern as valid, it does not follow that the Russians are going to continue to foster the growth of an invasive species. Is it wrong to assume that they are not simply seeking a way to mitigate the effects of a past mistake? Would we make the same assumption if our government had been the proponent? Is it fair to be that xenophobic?

        1. re: applehome

          Thanks for posting that thread. Even though it only got 4 replies, to me it gives a different way of looking at it- especially "encouraging an invasive species by buying it". Money talks to any government. I totally had not considered that. However MGZ , you have a good point too. It seems like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways. I don't know that our own government would be past that (looking at our own depletion of crab and rates of fishing over the years. I looked up the Wiki article on the watch list (I know, scientific, right) and it does mention that it is considered U.S. centric by many which I found myself kind of agreeing with after seeing the list.

          I am going to cook up my crab in a few minutes anyway and am really excited to do so (along with some sweet corn and a salad of all sorts of yummy marinated stuff and cheese) after fireworks shopping today. I LOVE this holiday!

        2. Russia and Alaska practically kiss. How would their king crab differ any more than Maine and Nova Scotia lobster? Do they need visas? Until 1867, Alaska WAS Russia. Did the crabs know that?

          3 Replies
            1. re: MGZ

              Apologies: I didn't get my bearings straight beyond the Bering Strait. Same critter, though, no?

          1. Russian and Alaskan king crab is nearly the same thing. Russian ships will come all the way to the border line from Alaska to fish. The only difference is that the Russians don't have the same restrictions on season so they will be out there getting crab while the American boats can't. That does cause some tension, and a debate on sustainability of the species.

            King crab has been "introduced" into Norway, where it is now an invasive species and is eating everything in sight. That's not the case with Russia, they are indiginous there. Eating all the invasive king crab with no fishing restrictions caught in Norway would actually be a good thing.

            1. I’m glad to clarify the reasoning behind the Seafood Watch “Avoid” recommendation for the Russian Barents Sea king crab fishery.

              Approximately half of all king crab sold in the U.S. market is imported from Russia, where it is fished in the Russian Far East and the Barents Sea. Far East king crab populations are at critically low abundance, a situation made worse by regular overfishing and illegal fishing. In the Barents Sea, king crab was introduced in the 1960s. The crab has spread quickly and has become an invasive species that is seriously impacting the ecosystem. We recommend consumers "Avoid" imported king crab and choose king crab from the U.S.

              Here is more detail, from the science report that provides the basis for our Seafood Watch recommendation:

              In the Russian Barents Sea, the red king crab is a quickly spreading invasive species that is
              causing substantial ecosystem impacts, including adverse impacts on lumpsucker recruitment
              and health of the native cod and sea urchin populations.

              The fishery is managed using methods that would traditionally be deemed as highly effective, but because the fishery is based on a nonnative, invasive species, existing management is not desirable. In addition, attempting to maintain or enhance abundance through management of a non-native species is a violation of Article 8(h) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which states that “Contracting parties to the Convention should, as far as possible and appropriate, prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats, or species” (Hansson 2002).

              Until the fishery is managed as an eliminated fishery, Seafood Watch© deems the management of the Barents Sea fishery to be a high conservation concern. Due to the high conservation concerns of the ineffective management regime and the non-native, invasive species’ effects on the habitat and ecosystem, the Russian Barents Sea king crab fishery is given an overall seafood recommendation of Avoid.

              Ken Peterson, Communications Director
              Monterey Bay Aquarium

              22 Replies
              1. re: aquaken

                Respectfully, why the recommendation to "avoid" an invasive species? Wouldn't eating them begin to ameliorate the problem?

                1. re: Veggo

                  As aquaken explained, the problem is that Russia is not interested in ameliorating the problem (which they created). There are international rules about how to deal with invasive species, and Russia is not following them. Instead, their goal seems to be to maintain this fishery for ever and ever. Buying king crab from the Barents Sea under the current circumstances encourages these environmentally questionable practices.

                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    It appears to be a new normal, like it or not, to which we must adjust.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Um, we have choices about where we purchase our food from. We don't have to buy crab from the Barents Sea, for example. There are more responsible options available, in this issue and most others as well.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        Thanks. I will be mindful of the underlying conditions I learned here, for my future purchases when I am offered a choice.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Just had "King Crab" in San Francisco, and the chef came out with their "papers," which had all the necessary stamps.

                          They were just OK, so maybe the papers were forged?


                2. re: aquaken

                  Thanks for explaining Seafood Watch's position on this issue. The interplay of economic and environmental factors is a little different on this one.

                  1. re: aquaken

                    The vast mass of corporate doublespeak above doesn't do much to explain the aquarium's position or why it makes any sense at all.

                    Let me see if I have this straight:

                    --The crab in question is an invasive species and doesn't belong in the sea in question.
                    --The self-appointed Guardians of the Planet have decided there are too many of them in said sea.
                    --The Guardians aren't happy with what the Russians are doing about it.
                    --The Russians aren't harvesting enough of the crabs, i.e. are leaving too many in the sea.
                    --Therefore we should boycott Russian crab, i.e. buy none.
                    --If we are truly successful, the world will join us in this boycott
                    --By selling none, the Russians will now be motivated to catch more of them. All of them, in fact.

                    Yes, capitalism at its finest. The less I sell, the more I will produce. Brilliant strategy.

                    1. re: acgold7

                      As consumers, we really only have two choices: buy or don't buy. You are probably right that "don't buy" is an idealistic choice that on its own is unlikely to lead to any real change. But is there any sensible environmental argument in favor of the only other option, which is "buy"? Do you think that by buying this product we will trick the Russians into overfishing the Barents Sea? Does that make any more sense than Seafood Watch's position, or your caricature of it?

                      If you can't be part of the solution, you can at least try not to be part of the problem. If your argument is "No matter what I do, the Barents Sea is f*cked, so why shouldn't I enjoy some cheap crab in the meantime?" then that truly is the triumph of capitalism and greed over all sense of individual and collective responsibility.

                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                        I don't think we can trick anyone into anything. I think profit is a powerful motivator and always has been, and the more demand, the more anyone will want to fill it. It has always been proven to be true and has never, as yet, failed.

                        Boycotting can only result in increasing the population, so it is doing *that* which would be being part of the problem.

                        The "argument" you make in your second paragraph never occurred to me.

                        Capitalism and greed are, in this case, the solution to the problem, not the cause of it. And the Seafood Watch's position is its own silly caricature -- it didn't need me to make it sound stupid. I was just putting it in plain English and stripping away the obfuscatory language which was designed to hide the sheer ridiculousness of it.

                        The Russian Crab industry can't be guilted into doing the right thing just because it is the right thing. They couldn't care less. They will chase the money. Buy more of the stuff and they will go and catch more stuff until it is all gone. Just like the Sturgeon.

                        It usually helps, in matters like this, to look at how people and markets actually behave.

                        1. re: acgold7

                          So it's business as usual and zero accountability… I have no doubt that, through carelessness and greed, humans will eventually eat all the crabs in the Barents Sea, along with everything else worth eating in every other part of the ocean. But I don't consider this to be an acceptable approach for eradicating invasive species.

                          One of the things you ridicule Seafood Watch for is that the success of a boycott relies on many people joining in. But your "solution" also requires many people to start buying more Russian crab, enough to collapse an industry that is currently being managed specifically to avoid this. As I said, I imagine that this will eventually happen, but only far in the future, and I believe it is reasonable to hope for faster results through regulation (which is the element you conveniently left out in your plain English re-interpretation of aquaken's message).

                          If your position is that regulation is doomed to failure, you may be right, unfortunately. (The ineffectiveness of the CBD in this case points in that direction.) But it doesn't follow that the free market is the solution; it's just what we're stuck with.

                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                            As consumers, we really only have two choices: buy or don't buy. We can either do what helps us accomplish our goal, or we can simply and pretentiously do what makes us feel good about ourselves, and spend our time slapping each other on the back for our high moral stance.

                            Boycotts have never worked at accomplishing anything, ever. They always have the opposite effect.

                            According to Seafood Watch:

                            --Sustainable Fishing is good, except when we decide it isn't
                            --Fish should be free to swim freely and wherever they want, except when we decide they shouldn't. By the way, don't tell Ramsay about those Maine Lobster that have crawled into Canada because he will go apoplectic.
                            --The barbed wire and crab tollbooths we installed must have been ineffective
                            --An extremely high-priced delicacy is much less important than trash fish
                            --Segregation is bad, except when we decide it isn't
                            --We should buy the crab from stocks that are at critically low, near extinction levels at wildly inflated prices, from a fishery that is near collapse, rather than from where they are in abundance and cheap and we want to deplete the supplies.

                            What silly foolishness. I've got some old "Save the Whales" buttons if you want them. I tried putting "Preserve Lumpsucker Recruitment" on them but it wouldn't fit.

                            But please, spare me the lecture.

                              1. re: acgold7

                                It's not necessarily a choice between Russian crab and US crab. You can also choose not to buy any crab, if you are actually concerned about environmental issues.

                                1. re: DeppityDawg

                                  Actually, in the context of this discussion, that is, in fact, the exact choice. And what you are suggesting will only lead to the destruction of both industries and the crab running rampant in Russia, which is the opposite of what you say you want.

                        2. re: acgold7

                          I agree....lots of doublespeak above. One way to eliminate an invasive species is to eat a lot of it. I'm hoping the Russkies harvest so much that the price goes down to $4.99, the same price lobsters currently go for in Maine. At that price I'll buy 50lbs and host a King crab luau at my house bring your own drawn butter and beer.

                            1. re: acgold7

                              I have upped it to a 100lbs Kings luau when Vlad Putin fires up his world domination campaign. His plan is to give the people what they want @$4.99/lb, thereby achieving worldwide acclaim
                              You are invited and have a monogrammed lobster cracker waiting for you and your wife or female partner to share

                              1. re: zzDan

                                I'm there for the crab....will bring a couple kegs of beer.....but what exactly is a Lumpsucker?....Is it a fish that feeds on Lumps?....If so, how does a fish that feeds on lumps taste and where does one get lumps to use for bait to catch one?

                                1. re: Tom34

                                  Lumpsucker eggs are eaten but that's about it. Never heard of them before. Maybe they'll be a delicacy some day if other fish get fished out.

                                  Lumpsucker eggs are marketed as substitute caviar. ---says one website

                          1. re: acgold7

                            Back in Colorado, there was a similar uproar on "invasive species." Then someone pointed out that Mountain Goats were NOT an indigenous species to Colorado. Oops! Well, the "cute factor" won out, and everyone went after some other species.

                            Happens all the time.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              "Invasive species" does not mean merely "alien species." See the definition I posted elsewhere in this thread.