It isn't just stock market punters who have been suffering in Hong Kong lately.

Vendors of a favorite delicacy, Shanghai crab, say sales have plummeted because people are afraid the name of the dish will bring them bad luck in the financial markets.Shanghai crabs are called "tai chap hai," or "big shackled crab."

In a place renowned for superstition, the hairy, "big shackled crab" is a horrendously inauspicious name.

The clawed delicacies are now languishing unsold in shops, unwanted by people who until two weeks ago used to feast on their tasty meat.

"Big shackled crab, big shackled crab, it sounds awful! How can you even ask me to eat it?" cried secretary Kellie Ko, her lips curling at the edges in horror at the thought.

"I won't go near them!" Ko, 28, told Reuters.

"Eating it will mean having all my cash tied down, like the `big shackled crab'," explained Ko.

One of the ordinary Hong Kong people who play the markets and have lost their savings in recent weeks, Ko said she had a paper loss of some HK$50,000 (US$6,500) on shares bought over the past year.

Hong Kong's key stock indicator, the Hang Seng Index, has lost more than 25 percent since early October.

For thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of novice punters who bought shares at high prices and saw them slide, selling their stocks now might be too painful.

Instead, many people like Ko hang on, hoping for a turnaround. But they have to live with their hands and cash tied, just like the crabs in the shops with their claws bound.

The crabs, which muck around in freshwater lakes and rivers in Shanghai and China's coastal province of Jiangsu, are harvested at this time of year. Others are raised artificially in neighboring Guangdong for the Hong Kong market.

Bound and wrapped in straw, they are shipped by the millions to Hong Kong, where they are then stored alive in refrigerators.

Whether fried, steamed or boiled, the hard-shelled crabs are highly desired in Hong Kong, particularly for their huge chunks of scarlet roe.

And they aren't cheap. One shackled crab about half the size of the adult human palm costs between HK$60 (US$8) and HK$200 (US$26), depending on its quality.

"Sales have fallen about 20 percent for me," bemoaned Wong Gui-pong, 58, who has been selling shackled crabs for 28 years.

Wong, who has his mobile refrigerator on a busy sidewalk outside a popular restaurant, sells 200-400 crabs daily. He is luckier than fellow crab seller Lau An, 41, who mans a refrigerator a few blocks away.

"Most of my customers have disappeared this year. They think it's very bad sounding and won't have them," Lau told Reuters.

Hong Kong may be ultramodern, but its people remain highly superstitious.