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…I know I said I was taking a blogging vay-cay, but this blog was mostly written already and we went crabbing this afternoon and I finally have pics. So, here’s one last hurrah for the next few weeks!

A Bit About Crabs
Crabs are pretty much found worldwide…of which there are around 4400 species.  Not all animals called the “crab” are true crabs–for example, the horseshoe crab and hermit crab. True crabs are members of the infraorder Brachyura, and first appeared in the fossil record 200 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. Most species are found in salt water or brackish water, but there are a number of freshwater and terrestrial crab species as well. Crab species range in leg-span size from under a cementer to over ten feet and most crab species exhibit sexual dimorphism.

Crabs for Eatin’
A number of crab species are edible, though not all of them are easy crabbin’ from a recreational standpoint. On the west coast, the Dungeness and Red Rock Crab are the most commonly harvest species. Here on the east coast, the Blue Crab is where its at, with a range (in warm years) from Nova Scotia all the way down to Argentina (for more information about Blue Crabs, this site is an awesome resource). Another species that is edible, though not widely harvested, is the European Green Crab which is found in this area as an invasive species. Before going crabbing, check your local regulations!!

Crabbing Regulations in Virginia

Taking by dip net, hand line, or two crab pots* as much as one bushel of hard crabs and two dozen peeler crabs in any one day for personal use aboard any vessel.  If crabbing occurs from shore (crabs are not possessed on a vessel) the possession limit is one bushel and two dozen peeler crabs per person per day.

from the Virginia Marine Resources Comission

*according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s crabbing site, the use of crab pots is only legal if you are a waterfront property owner setting pots on your own property

Catch Size Restrictions in Virginia

Minimum size limits:  5 inches for male hard crabs (jimmies) and immature female hard crabs, 3 ¼ inches for peeler crabs caught from March 17 through July 15 and 3 ½ inches from July 16 until November 30 in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries; 3 ¼ inches for peeler crabs caught on the seaside of the Eastern Shore; and 3 1/2inches for softshell crabs measured from tip to tip of the longest spikes.  No size limits exist for adult female hard crabs (sooks).

Dark sponge (brown through black coloration) crabs must be returned to the water alive and not altered or destroyed in any manner during the period of March 17 thru June 30; however, a tolerance of 10 dark sponge crabs per bushel is allowed.

from the Virginia Marine Resources Comission

Hand Line Technique
Also called “chicken necking”, after one of the most common bait types (eel, menhaden, bull lip, fish heads and turkey neck are other typical crab bait, though any raw meat can be used), catching crab with a hand line is one of the simplest crabbing techniques.  All you need in addition to bait is a line, a stick or other implement to act as a stake (heavy duty tent stakes work well), a dip net and a bucket of water to keep your catch in (crabs need air and water to survive, and they need to be live prior to preparation).  It is also advisable to have a culling stick of some sort with the size restrictions marked and a cooler with ice water rather than a bucket of water (ice helps slow their system down).  Optionally, some people will use a weight of some sort to attach to the end of the string with the bait and some are fans of crab tongs or heavy duty gloves to handle the crab with (though the very nice lady that showed Chickadee and I how to crab says “don’t need ’em if you know how to hold ’em right”).

To catch crabs, first tie one end of your string to your stake and tie the other end to your bait. If you notice the image on the right, there are “pins” with weights attached that can be bought specifically for crabbing, and they are under $2–string included.  Toss the bait out into the water and either hold the stick and wait for a tug if you are only using one string), or stake the stick and wait for movement or to periodically check the string.  When you pull it up, pull the bait up slowly, if you’ve caught any, the crabs should stay attached until you can scoop them up with you dip net.  Measure the crab, toss back the ones that are not regulation, and put the keepers in your bucket or cooler and try again.

Another option for recreational crabbing is using a ring net or other trap.  Crab traps have collapsible sides and lay flat on the bottom, they are baited and then set and crabs can come and go as they please until the trap is pulled up, and the sides come up to trap the crab.  Also, don’t leave your crabs in your bucket for an extended period of time–you are unlikely to keep them alive that way, and they are known to cannibalize one another…if you decide to be a dedicated crabber, it may behoove you to construct something to keep them contained in the water (I saw one gentleman that had made a wooden box out of slats and would take it out, put his crabs in there and drop it back in until it was time to head home).

Cooking the Crab
The most important thing about cooking crabs you’ve caught is that a dead crab should NEVER be cooked and eaten.  Crabs get cooked live, and die in the process. If you bring home your crab, and any have died, they need to be disposed of, period. Crab meat spoils extremely fast.

The trick to tasty crab is to steam, not boil.  Steaming the crab ensures that all the tasty crabbiness is left inside the shell for your appreciation, and not in the pot of water you cooked the crab in.  The meat from different parts of the crab have different and ideal uses– backfin is meat from the body and includes lump meat (large pieces of body meat and commerically the most expensive) and special (flakes of non-lump body meat) of which lump is good for crab cakes and crab imperial while special is good for crab cakes, soups, casserole and dips, and the claw meat is best for soups and dips.

Also, she-crabs add flavor, due to the roe, and are found in the spring–often their are more stringent restrictions of catching these crabs, or catching sponge crabs (crabs with egg masses attached).  Another issue for some people is the whether or not the crabs, being cooked live, feel pain.  Studies appear to be unclear on this, and if it is a concern, it is suggested that putting them on ice or in the freezer for 15-20 minutes prior to cooking puts them in a dormant state minimizing the potential for pain.

No crabs were harmed in the making of this blog post!  We released all of our crabs back into the canal today, since we had other dinner plans for the night.