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July 10, 2008

Crab Cake Confessions

All right, I was going to keep it a secret, but I think I just need to get this off my chest:over the July 4th weekend, I made crab cakes. And they weren’t exactly sustainable. *Emily cringes and waits for the lashes*Here’s the thing. Like millions of Americans, I grew up eating seafood during the summer. There’s a place in Emerald Isle, NC, near my family’s beach house, called the Big Oak drive in — and they have the most fabulous shrimp burgers. Then there’s the Sanitary Fish Market and Restaurant in Morehead City, from which I have many fond memories with the Fisher family. Summer without seafood simply isn’t summer.So, since I may or may not make it to the NC beach this summer, I decided to try my hand at it here in the city, and it turned out be quite a project. First I tried the Dupont farmers’ market here in DC. As it turns out, they sell the cooked cakes, but seldom the meat itself. Then I tried Whole Foods, and found they only had crab meat from India, which disturbed my budding locavore sensibilities. At this point, I turned to the Maine Avenue fish market in southwest DC, assuming the local seafood might be more sustainable. It’s a floating fish market and one that used to be all-local, but which is now a mix of local and imported seafood. I found the market to be wonderful nonetheless — hip-hop and latin music drifting from stalls, the smell of the sea. Lots of split-open crabs displayed for passersby, with orange roe oozing out of their shells. In short, I came, I saw, I bought my pound of blue crab backfin meat from Virginia and I made the cakes with a lot of butter and topped them with tartar sauce and a side of fresh greens. My supper was delicious, don’t get me wrong, and I have many frozen leftovers. But I won’t do this again any time soon — it was too darn expensive! When I told Oceana’s chief scientist Mike Hirshfield the story, he replied, “Well, yeah, they’re expensive. There aren’t any left!” Looking over the sustainable seafood guide, Blue, Snow, and Tanner Crabs are listed as “yellow,” which means “Some problems exist with this species’ status or catch/farming methods, or information is insufficient for evaluating.” Specifically, these types of crabs are “exploited heavily, depletion affects some populations of these crab species. Blue Crabs suffer from habitat loss and pollution problems. Certain biological traits in Snow Crabs—like eggbrooding for almost a year—make them particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure. Fishers catch crabs mainly with low bycatch traps.”So are crab cakes sustainable? Heck, I work for a marine conservation organization, and it’s still not entirely clear.The point is, it’s hard for a seafood consumer out there, and you have to do your homework before you plan your menu. I plan on following the sustainable seafood guide as closely as possible from now on, sticking with the “green” entries. And stay tuned for more posts on the Maine Ave. fish market — I think I have to go back and investigate. Anyone else have seafood confessions or memories and subsequent lessons you may or may not have learned?[Image: Quentin Bacon via]