China's insatiable appetite for an autumn delicacy

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Braised hairy crab and shrimp with dough ball in sour soup from Maison on One. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Hairy crab stocks this year may have hit a record high, but industry players say demand is still outstripping supply by a significant margin.

Thanks to a mild summer and optimal breeding methods, both the amount and quality of hairy crabs, a freshwater crustacean farmed mostly in East China's Yangtze River region, have reached historical highs this year.

However, the increased supply still isn't enough to satiate China's growing appetite for this premium seasonal delicacy. Instead, it has spurred chefs, restaurateurs and retailers to up the ante and make this shellfish the nation's most coveted ingredient that could rival the exclusivity of truffles and caviar in Western countries.

According to the China Fisheries Association, the total volume of hairy crabs produced this year should reach 850,000 metric tons, up by more than 10 percent from last year and breaking the previous record of 820,000 metric tons set in 2016.

A crab farmer from Cheng Long Hang, a company whose Huangpu branch restaurant got a Michelin star this year, harvests hairy crabs from Taihu Lake in East China's Jiangsu province. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

The average weight of male and female crabs in East China's Yangcheng Lake, for example, has also appreciated, reaching 220 grams and 170 grams respectively.

"Despite the record high produce, the market price of hairy crabs has not dropped. In fact, the prices of the best quality ones have even gone up. This is partly due to the rising cost of farming the crabs, but also mainly because the soaring demand is outstripping supply," says Yang Weilong, a senior engineer of aquaculture and consultant of China Fisheries Association.

Dubbed as the man who "fished diamond out of water", Yang has been largely responsible for turning the famous hairy crabs produced in Yangcheng Lake into a national brand at the turn of the century. Yang, who is also the founder of the Suzhou Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association, was recognized as one of the 10 most influential people in this industry by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2006.

"The hairy crab, after decades of improved breeding and marketing efforts, stands out as the epitome of China's refined taste and culinary skills due to its unique characteristics and historical background," says Yang.

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