Market for hairy crustaceans from Yangcheng Lake disrupted by counterfeits

Crab mentality

For lovers of Chinese hairy crabs, October is the highly anticipated season to appreciate this traditional delicacy, especially crabs from Yangcheng Lake in East China's Jiangsu Province. This year, however, sales for the local crustacean have been slower than expected, according to market insiders and experts.

Shanghai Morning Post contacted several hairy crab retailers, with most agreeing that the pre-sale market for hairy crabs was not strong this year. A company selling crabs online said that about one-third of their clients did not place orders this year.  

"A lot of old patrons who expressed interest before will not be placing orders this year. Some clients plan to order later," a staff of the company told Shanghai Morning Post in September.

Experts say this is the first obvious drop in sales for hairy crabs since 2015. "The main reason is that more and more Shanghai citizens realize that few hairy crabs sold during the Mid-Autumn Festival and October national holiday period are up to standard," Ge Jinhai, executive director of the Shanghai Aquatic Products Business and Trade Association of the  China Fisheries Association, told Shanghai Morning Post.

"Unless you pay big money, it's almost impossible to get crabs with buttery, creamy roe," Ge added.

Fake crabs

Indeed, the market for hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake, which are considered a traditional Chinese delicacy, was disrupted by a new counterfeit crab market that illicit sellers claimed to be genuine.

This year's official hunting season for Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs began on September 21, the official date when crab farmers are allowed to catch the crustacean. But 10 days before that date, many shops on online platforms such as Taobao and PDD started selling "hairy crabs from the Yangcheng," the Beijing News reported in September.

They claimed the crabs were authentic, with some even tagging them with anti-counterfeiting bar codes. On PDD, some shops sold a dozen Yangcheng hairy crabs for only 99 yuan ($14). "The lake hasn't even opened for hunting. How can they be authentic?" the boss of a shop on Fengyang Road in Suzhou of East China's Jiangsu Province selling Yangcheng crabs told the Beijing News.

She revealed to Beijing News that the crabs being sold at her own shop were actually Xinghua crabs, which she bought from the Xiaojing market in Jiangsu Province. "It's not just us. The entire market works this way. Even sellers of hairy crabs cannot get authentic hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake," she said.

As she spoke to the reporter, several customers from Shanghai visited the shop. She did a shush gesture to the reporter and started to tout her "authentic" Yangcheng crabs to the customers. The Xiaojing market she referred to is a huge wet market featuring over 50 hairy crab wholesalers and over a dozen shops selling hairy crab packaging such as cartons for gift boxes.

The owner of a shop called Xiaotang Hairy Crab in the venue told Beijing News that he sells over 10,000 kilograms of hairy crabs each day, none of which are from Yangcheng Lake. "My clients include the Yangcheng hairy crab trade market, crab king market, nearby farmer-run restaurants and companies selling Yangcheng hairy crabs. If local Yangcheng Lake crab farmers do not have enough supply, they will buy from us," he said.

Fake barcodes

In order to crack down on fake crabs, several years ago the Yangcheng Lake crab industry started to attach to each individual crab an anti-counterfeiting label and barcode. But even the tags are now being counterfeited.

In the Xiaojing market, over a dozen shops sell such tags, but usually only on special request from customers.  When one customer asked for the tags, a shop assistant took out a large bag of anti-counterfeiting tags from behind the counter.

Prices ranged from 0.2 yuan to 0.3 yuan each. "The cheaper ones have bar codes that don't work. The more expensive ones, if you scan their bar codes, you can see text like 'authentic Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs.' And if you scan the bar codes on the most expensive tags, you can see a picture of Yangcheng Lake," the shop assistant told the customer, as overheard by the reporter.

An official from the industry committee of Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs told Beijing News that real tags will only be issued after September 21, when hunting season begins. Until then, let the buyer beware.

This article was translated based on reports by Shanghai Morning Post and the Beijing News.

(Source: Global Times)