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Blue crab catch in northeast Japan rises 300 times after 2011 disaster

  • JAPAN NEWS / YOMIURI

    Fishermen in Shichigahama, in Miyagi Prefecture, removed blue crabs caught in a net set in Sendai Bay last month.

Tokyo >> The catch volume of blue crabs in Sendai Bay and waters off Miyagi Prefecture has been rapidly growing since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Some experts believe the tsunami changed the fishery environment.

The nation’s largest volume of blue crab catches has been recorded there since 2015, increasing by more than 300 times.

Warmer sea temperatures and accumulated mud on the seabed as a result of the tsunami created an environment hospitable to the crabs, bringing unexpected joy to many people engaged in the fishing industry.

“Even if we are trying to catch flounder, crabs are getting caught with them,” Jinei Abe, a 68-year-old fisherman with 50 years of experience, said at at Shobuta fishing port in Shichigahama. About 440 pounds of blue crabs were caught in a gill net set at a depth of 91 feet, he said.

Abe first noticed the change in autumn 2011. His fishing boat was out to sea at the time of the calamity and escaped harm from the tsunami, which allowed him to resume fishing right after the disaster.

Before the 2011 disaster, he only caught a few blue crabs each year.

The unit value of blue crabs is low, and handling and processing them require a lot of time, but they have become the main catch for fishing in the prefecture as the haul has remained stable so far.

According to data compiled by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the annual blue crab catch the prefecture totaled 2 tons in 2010. The figure jumped to 518 tons in 2015, the nation’s highest.

In 2016, 662 tons were caught in the prefecture, accounting for 30 percent of the entire haul of blue crabs in the nation.

Blue crabs don’t have the same reputation as snow crabs or red king crabs, but the reasonable prices make them popular. Their crabmeat is sweet and innards are creamy. Blue crabs can be boiled or are used as an ingredient in Chinese cuisine, pasta dishes and miso soup.

Menya Musashi, a Tokyo-based ramen chain, offered ramen served with a whole blue crab caught in Watari town, Miyagi Prefecture, as an August special.

“We received positive responses from our customers, with some saying the umami of the crabs tasted so well with ramen,” said Jiro Yatogi, president of Menya Musashi.

If the catch volume of the crabs stabilizes, the crabs could be branded as a local delicacy.

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