|A farmer harvests his first pail of crabs this fall from Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu province on Tuesday. Though orders have dwindled, the price of the delicacy continues to rise. Zhu Guigen / for China Daily|
Orders for the popular Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs, which officially went on sale on Tuesday, are lower than in previous years because of the government's ban on extravagance. However, prices for the sought-after delicacy have nonetheless skyrocketed.
Crab farmers began catching Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs on Tuesday, opening the season for the crustacean.
The crabs are raised in Yangcheng Lake, which is located in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, and are known for their golden furry claws and female crab roe. They have historically been part of China's Mid-Autumn Festival banquet table and are given as gifts during the holiday.
This year, however, pre-orders for the crabs have "dropped significantly" due to the central government's campaign to curb corruption that went into effect in December, said Yang Weilong, chairman of the Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association.
"Orders have dropped by 200 tons, which we believe is mainly caused by the policy," Yang said. Last year, 1,750 tons of crabs from the lake were ordered by restaurants, hotels and supermarkets across the country.
"Business is bad. We have thus far sold very few gift vouchers," said a manager of Yipin Lotus, which is a member of the association.
The manager, who only gave his surname of Wu, said major clients in previous years, including restaurants and government departments, have largely cut or canceled orders.
Still, the retail price this year for the crabs is higher than last year, making the Yangcheng Lake hairy crab an expensive addition to the dinner table.
Shen Jiansheng, chairman of Golden Crab, a company based in Suzhou, said prices for authentic Yangcheng Lake hairy crab will double last year's prices.
"For a crab weighing at 175 grams, the retail price will be 200 yuan ($32.70) per kilogram, up from 100 yuan per kilogram last year," he said.
Yang, from the Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association, said the reason is simple: this summer's heat wave. Crab breeders expected a bumper harvest this year, but the sweltering heat this summer flattened production. Yang said the catch this year equals last year's haul of around 2,100 tons, or 16 million crabs.
He added that hairy crabs sold before Tuesday at cheaper prices are most likely not from the lake. "This date is carefully calculated to guarantee the quality of the delicacy," he said.
Online sales of crabs have been popular for several weeks. Wu said online sales are putting added stress on the Yipin Lotus restaurant's bottom line.
Industry insiders said some of the crabs sold online cannot be from Yangcheng Lake, which is generally believed to be the best location for breeding the animals.