Hairy crabs in short supply after China's export halt

Madam Hong Ying Lien (right), director of High Fresh Trading, and general manager Lucas Ng displaying their new stock of hairy crabs from Holland yesterday. These crabs are more expensive than those from China.
Madam Hong Ying Lien (right), director of High Fresh Trading, and general manager Lucas Ng displaying their new stock of hairy crabs from Holland yesterday. These crabs are more expensive than those from China.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

No official reason given for suspension, but some blame warm weather for fall in stock

Fans of hairy crabs now have to shell out more for the delicacy - if they can get their hands on them. And changing weather patterns may be to blame.

Suppliers in China, one of Singapore's main sources for the freshwater crustaceans, told retailers here last week that they have suspended exports of hairy crabs, The Straits Times has learnt.

While no official reason for the suspension has been given, Madam Hong Ying Lien, who imports hairy crabs, said it could be due to a drop in supply caused by unusually warm weather in China.

In cooler weather - usually when the autumn chill sets in - the crabs put on fat to insulate themselves, produce roe and start mating. The female's orange-gold roe and the male's off-white milt are prized delicacies.

The delayed cold season has caused the supply of these mature hairy crabs to fall by 20 per cent and prices to rise by 10 per cent, according to Shin Min Daily News.

  • 20%

    Drop in supply of hairy crabs because of the delayed cold season in China

    10%

    Increase in prices as a result

    53 tonnes

    Amount of hairy crabs Singapore imported last year

    42 tonnes

    Imports in 2014

    30 tonnes

    Imports in 2013

Hairy crab season usually starts in September, peaks during mid- October and November, and ends in December. Demand for hairy crabs, known for their flavourful flesh and creamy roe, has been growing here. Last year, Singapore imported 53 tonnes of them, compared to 42 tonnes in 2014 and 30 tonnes in 2013, figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore show.

Madam Hong, director of High Fresh Trading, which sells imported crabs to restaurants and retailers, is currently getting her supply of hairy crabs from the Netherlands instead.

But the prices of these wild-caught crabs are 20 per cent higher than those from China, which are usually farmed, she said.

Madam Hong, who started importing hairy crabs in 2000, added that this is the first time she has experienced such a suspension.

Hua Ting Restaurant in Orchard Hotel took the crabs off the menu last week, two weeks earlier than planned. "We received a letter from our supplier that China has stopped all export of hairy crabs to Singapore," said Orchard Hotel's communications director Amy Ang.

"The quality of the crabs was (also) not up to standard."

Chinese restaurant chain Peach Garden also stopped selling hairy crab dishes last week, but this was because of weak demand from consumers.

Said Mr Ho Toon Chian, its assistant director of sales and marketing: "We usually sell it until late November, but the response this year wasn't very good.

"Consumers seem to be worried about recent news that Hong Kong had issues with its hairy crabs."

Earlier this month, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety urged retailers there to stop selling hairy crabs from two farms in China after some samples were found to be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals, the South China Morning Post reported.

For now, consumers may have difficulty getting hairy crabs from supermarkets here. FairPrice has run out of hairy crabs, while at Sheng Siong, the crabs are almost sold out. Cold Storage and Giant do not sell hairy crabs.

Ms Angel Lim, who is in her 60s and self-employed, said she would not pay more to eat hairy crabs for now.

"Nowadays the crabs are small, there's little flesh, and they still charge more," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Hairy crabs in short supply after China's export halt'. Print Edition | Subscribe