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Local a safe buy

Published: 
Sunday, July 22, 2018
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Philly and Narie Mahase clean crabs at their stall along the Southern Main Road, Valsayn, on Friday. Photo by:Charles Kong Soo

Local crab catchers and vendors say Trinis can have their local crabs in their favourite Sunday lunch staples crab and callaloo and crab and dumpling, as they are safe.

Since the Government issued a ban on the importation of processed crab meat and live crabs from Venezuela and following the US Food and Drug Administration’s discovery of a bacteria which causes cholera in fresh crab meat from Venezuela and its report that 12 people in the US had been sickened by the bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, sales have plummeted drastically, some as much as 50 per cent.

The Sunday Guardian visited the crab catchers and vendors near the old Caroni Bridge on Friday. Normally there would be at least ten stalls but that day there were only four.

Although the crab catchers, many of them third-generation, complained that sales were slow there was still a slow trickle of their regular customers.

There were no Venezuelan crabs for sale, only the local variety—the ‘hairy’ crab, or mangrove crab (Ucides cordatus), blue crab, or ‘iron back’ crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) and the red crab.

Narie Mahase said: “It’s 20 years I’m selling crabs, I’m here six days a week. I have an established clientele and I get orders from restaurants for my crabs.

“I catch them myself from the Caroni Swamp, they’re safe to buy and eat.

“All of us have been selling here years and none of our customers said they got sick from eating crab. Everything is fresh and safe, we also have conch and cascadura from Biche.”

Chris Mahase, Narie’s brother, who had his own stall, said the crabs were safe, adding he ate them himself as well as the other crab catchers’ “normal.” He said he was selling crabs for nine years and his catch also came from the Caroni Swamp.

Mahase said the contaminated crab meat from Venezuela probably came about due to improper refrigeration or during processing.

He said sales had slowed down “real bad” by as much as 50 per cent in some cases.

Mahase said besides the crabs he caught, he supplemented his stock with blue crabs and conch from Mayaro. He said the prices of the crabs depended on their size, with 20 going for $100, $50 for a bunch of large crabs of three, four or five and blue crabs costing $60 for six. Sheila Ramroop, the only female crab catcher/vendor there on the day, said the local crabs were safe for people to eat, adding hers were caught that morning so they were fresh.

She said she grew up in the crab catching business—she was second generation catcher and her parents were the first people in Caroni to start selling crabs.

Ramroop said more customers would come out this weekend to buy but noted the Venezuelan and US crab contamination incidents were worrying. She said when someone bought crab meat in the grocery, it was uncertain how long it was in the freezer. Ramroop said this cannot compare to live, fresh produce such as the crabs they have that were still alive, had a fresh taste and also applied to seafood such as fish and shrimp.

Roger Jadoo, another crab catcher/vendor, said sales were slow for the week but he hoped his regular customers would pick up for the weekend. He said he went out to catch crabs from Monday to Wednesday and sold from Thursday onwards.

Jadoo said it was convenient for customers to buy crabs from him at that spot instead of going to the market.

Dolly Mohan, the only crab catcher and vendor in Aranguez, San Juan that day, also said local crabs were safe. She said her stock came from the Felicity River and she had her own boats to go out for her catch. Mohan said she used nets and four sticks to catch crabs in front their crab holes on the bank of the river, adding blue crabs were harder to catch and required bamboo traps set in the mangrove.

With 31 years in the business, Mohan said she used to sell in Caroni but had been selling in Aranguez for the past four years and had no complaints about her crabs.

She said since the story about the contaminated crab meat from Venezuela came out in the media things slowed down. Mohan said crabs were also imported from Grenada.

Customer Lena Aqui, from Arima said: “We always buy from this side. We enquired first from the vendor if the crabs were local, which he said they were.

“But we also know that we’re going to clean and cook them properly and based on what we heard it should not be a problem. We’re confident in eating them.”

Mily Inniss, another customer from Central, said her father had been taking her to buy crabs since she was two years. She said when you buy processed crabs from the grocery you don’t know how long they had been killed and sitting in the freezer.

In contrast, Inniss said the vendors cleaned the live, fresh crabs in front of the customer. She said she can’t live without them and they were worth it, adding she had no qualms about eating local crabs.

Anthony Gibbs, from Tunapuna, said everybody had to live and to “doh study the Government” as it seemed to know a lot about Venezuela’s business but not its own.

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