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A retailer packs crabs in her shop in Beijing. The sales of Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs rocketed during the National Day holiday in 2012. Photo: CFP
Zheng Xiaohua, a 28-year-old hairy crab farmer at Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, said it’s difficult to make it big in the crab business, though he fervently believes his crabs are among the finest on the market.
The Yangcheng Lake hairy crab farming area covers 120 square kilometers of waters in total. Autumn is the best time of the year for crab lovers to taste hairy crabs, and the renowned Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs are considered the tastiest. Nationwide demand for the area’s hairy crabs spiked when fishing started on September 22, however, crab dealers selling inauthentic crabs at lower prices are making it hard for Zheng to stay competitive, he said, while government and industry bodies are failing to fix the problems.
Starting out with a crab-feeding operation two decades ago, Zheng’s family now owns a crab farming operation that covers 40,000 square meters of water, and runs an online crab shop. With big companies dominating the local market and ineffective crackdowns on “fake” crab dealers, Zheng said he can only rely on word of mouth when it comes to promoting his business.
“Some crab dealing companies are owned by the bosses at the crab association, and it’s easier for them to be officially recognized and receive a certificate,” he said, adding that this meant they could mix inauthentic crabs with real ones.
Hairy crabs caught in Yangcheng Lake are recognized as luxury crabs in China, and are subject to a limited amount of sales each year at higher prices. The crabs there are famous for their bigger size and better taste due to a good feeding environment, and the Suzhou government has been aggressively promoting hairy crabs as one of their local specialties. This also gives incentive to those looking to cash in on the fame of the not-so-humble Yangcheng hairy crab.
Crab dealers have come up with various methods to sell “fake” crabs. According to a recent report in the Life Times, many of the so-called Yangcheng Lake crabs are not fed in the lake at all. Dealers either choose larger crabs that have been fed in pools then put a Yangcheng Lake tag on them, or they take them to the lake for a few days before selling them on the market as real ones. Customers, on the other hand, do not always know how to tell which are from Yangchang lake.
According to industry insiders, less than 1 percent of the so-called Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs sold on the Chinese market are real, the report stated. Normally real crabs are sold at 200 yuan ($32) for 500 grams, sometimes cheaper online, but fake dealers offer prices as low as 20 to 30 yuan.
A Shanghai native, surnamed Wei, who used to work with a website for one of the Suzhou crab dealers, told the Global Times that even in Suzhou, most of the Yangcheng Lake crabs sold on the market or online are fake.
“With a limited amount available for sales and some exported to foreign countries, the best way to get real ones are from special channels, for example, authorized dealers and people with connections with Yangcheng Lake crab farmers,” Wei said.