King crabs 'invasion': Mistaken identity as experts confirm giant crustaceans caught off Yorkshire coast and sold to London restaurants are actually native species

An expert at the Natural History Museum has confirmed that a batch of invasive red king crabs supposedly caught off Bridlington are in fact a common native species.

The claims of an 'invasion' of the giant crabs from Norwegian waters originated from a seafood wholesaler who told a number of national newspapers, including the Guardian and Times, that his fisherman cousin and caught a 250kg haul that he had then sold on to top chefs at London restaurants.

Shaun Henderson said it was the first time the non-native species had ever been found off the UK coast, having been introduced to Russia in the 1960s from their American strongholds. They later spread to Norway.

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Yet samples of the giant crustaceans have now been tested by an expert from the Natural History Museum and identified as stone crabs, also known as Norwegian king crabs - which are native to the North Sea.

Bridlington Harbour, where the catch was landed

The original articles about the red, or Alaskan, king crabs raised fears that they could decimate local fisheries by outcompeting smaller crabs for food and resources.

One of the customers who appeared to believe he had bought red king crabs - prized for their sweet flavour - from Henderson's business was Will Murray, head chef of London restaurant Fallow, who was quoted by the Guardian as being 'excited' to have obtained some of the haul for his menus.

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The Bridlington-based North Eastern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority's senior environmental and scientific officer Tim Smith said: "To my understanding this issue has been misreported. The crabs were identified by an expert at the Natural History Museum as the native stone crab Lithodes maja. The media report indicating that the crabs were invasive red king crabs was incorrect. We are monitoring the situation and should any more be landed will look to confirm this.

A 4kg captive king crab pictured at Scarborough Sea Life Centre in 2011

"I'm not aware of any red king crab being landed in Yorkshire before. My contact at CEFAS (government agency Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) was also doubtful of the report at first. He wasn't aware of any being landed regionally either."

The Norway king crab occurs naturally in colder North Atlantic waters off Europe and ranges south into the North Sea and northern half of Britain, though it has been recorded off the south-west.

Unlike the red king crab, which is native to the North Pacific and often fished off Alaska, Norway king crabs have a low rate of egg production which limits their numbers, making them unsuitable for commercial fishing.