Commercial exploitation of mitten crabs research project

Newspaper advert for a restaurant in Bangkok, advertising that mitten crab is on the menu

Part of a newspaper advert for a restaurant in Bankok, advertising that mitten crab is on the menu.

The mitten crab is a popular food delicacy in southeast Asia. The crabs are served in restaurants or can be purchased in street markets, traditionally bound in grass stems. 

They are caught and eaten during their migration period and are cooked by steaming.

Could human consumption be used to control invasive mitten crab populations?

Museum research

The London Port Health Authority sponsored a number of research projects to assess whether the crabs from the River Thames could be exploited commercially and whether they are fit for human consumption.

  • Experts from the Museum investigated the levels of toxins in the crabs - trace metals, hydrocarbons, organochlorines (PCBs, dioxins and dibenzofurans).
  • Others analysed: 
    • the potential for the crabs to serve as vectors for the human lung fluke, Paragonimus westermani
    • the presence of human pathogens, such as the species of Vibrio gram-negative bacteria associated with seafood-poisoning

A feasibility study conducted by Museum scientists addressed a number of additional practical issues including:

  • whether the Thames mitten crab population is large enough to support an artisanal fishing industry
  • the suitability of particular trapping locations and methods 
  • measures that might need to be taken to avoid detrimental depletion of the eel population in the Thames

Museum research report

Clark PF, Campbell P, Smith B, Rainbow PS, Pearce D and Miguez RP (2008) The commercial exploitation of Thames mitten crabs: a feasibility study. A report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, England. DEFRA reference FGE 274. pp. 1-81 + appendices 1-6.

This report is available to download:

Executive summary PDF (50.5 KB)


Full report PDF (1.1 MB)


Appendices 1-6 PDF (5.1 MB)

  • Measuring a Thames mitten crab
    Video of River Thames mitten crab fieldwork

    Join Paul Clark as he surveys the mitten crab population in the River Thames catchment in the UK.

  • Paul Clark in the lab
    Video of mitten crab lab work

    Following the collection of mitten crabs out in the field, they are dissected and analysed for heavy metals, dioxins and a range of chemicals. Watch this short video of Paul Clark dissecting one of the mitten crabs collected from the River Thames.

Key Museum publications

  • Clark PF, Mortimer D, Law RJ, Averns J, Cohen B, Wood D, Rose M, Fernandes A, Rainbow PS (2009) Dioxin and PCB contamination in Thames Chinese mitten crabs: implications for human consumption as a control mechanism for an alien invader. Environmental Science and Technology. 43(5): 1624-1629.
The commercial exploitation of Thames mitten crabs: a feasibility study:

External publications

  • Wagley S, Koofhethile KW, Rangdale R (2009) Prevalence and potential pathogenicity of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Chinese mitten crabs (Eriocheir sinensis) harvested from the River Thames estuary, England. Journal of Food Protection, 72(1): 60-66.

Research collaborators include: