Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

A Peek at Commercial Dungeness Crabbing

Fishermen in Southeast Alaska rarely make their living on one fishery. Over the years most fishermen (a title that includes women) have bought into multiple fisheries in order to string together a successful season.

There are quotas, limits, openers, closures, areas, boundaries, gear restrictions, and a crazy labyrinth of regulations. All of that is in the interest of maintaining harvests of Alaskan seafood in perpetuity.

A fisherman might salmon fish in summer, Dungeness crab in the fall, and shrimp in winter, leaving a few spring months to do maintenance on the boat and gear.

Cindy telling me to hurry up and take the picture before she drifts into the dock.

The following is a tiny part of how Dungeness crab get from the ocean to your grocery store.

We'll start with Cindy. A few years ago crabbing was a supplement to longlining and tendering for her. She crabbed in her small boat.

Her big boat is for longlining and salmon tendering.

Here's a little of one sunny day when she checked her pots.

Dungeness crab pot coming up with lots of kelp and some crab. Cindy coils the line carefully so that the pot will reset without tangles.

Pulling crab out of the pot before re-baiting it and resetting it. The bait that she chopped up is on the right side of the table.

A nice Dungeness crab that measures well above legal size.

Putting crab into a tote to be winched up to the seafood processor.

There is a scale showing the weight of the product.

Earlier this year the boats to the right were getting geared up for Dungeness crab. Pots that have been stored in gear sheds or in yards are loaded onto trucks, put onto the boats at the harbor lift station, and secured to take out on the fishing grounds. On small boats it can take multiple trips out to crab land just to get all of the pots set.

A few days ago we were in Zimovia Strait and saw the "Quad L" checking their string of crab pots. The weather was surprisingly calm and nice for November. It was in the upper 30's (about 3*c), with light winds.

The skipper brings the boat near a buoy, and the deckhand hooks it.


The line is brought up and around the block.

The deckhand coils line as the pot is brought in.

All female crab are released. Every male crab is measured. It is released if it is too small, or is put into circulating salt water in the hold if it is legal size. The crab must be alive and in good condition when they are sold to the seafood processor.

The bait cup is refilled and a large chunk of 'hanging bait' is added to the pot.

The pot is closed and reset.

One pot done, seventy-four to go. Actually I didn't ask them how many pots they are running. There are permits for 75, 225, or 300 pots. Each pot needs to be checked every few of days.

A tip of the hat to you hard working crabbers,

Alaska Beachcomber

More about dungeness crab: Cleaning Dungeness Crab

Cleaning Dungeness Crab

WARNING! Disturbing images. Crab disassembly. Pictures of grody, gooey crab parts. The following is how I prepare Dungeness crab for cooking. I am not recommending that you do the same. There are other ways to kill and clean crab. Just don't cook them whole; that is truly yucky, and can be unhealthy.

"I'm innocent! It was entrapment! No disassemble!"

Turning salmon heads into crab.

So the crab pot came up with some keepers in it. Yippee! There are several steps to check if the crab are keepers.

  • They must be males. Females go back in the ocean to make more crabs.
  • The crab caliper checks that they are of legal size. It goes inside of the point on each side of the crab's back to be sure that it is at least 6 1/2 inches across as per Alaska regulations. 
  • A quick squeeze on the large section of a leg behind the pincer tells if the crab is soft-shell. If the shell flexes then the crab has recently molted and will not have much meat. Soft shell crab are released to grow into their shells.
  • The crab must be alive. Since I usually clean them within minutes of removing them from salt water it is easy to tell that they are alive; they are trying to escape, hang onto something, or grab my fingers. If the crab isn't moving, and its mouth parts are not moving then it is likely dead, which is not safe to eat, and an unpardonable waste.

Measuring with the crab caliper

Dungeness crab are usually in a bad mood about being pulled from the water into outer space where they can't breathe. They are still quick, though, and will not hesitate to grab hold of fingers and bruise, break, or clip them off.

I take this opportunity to thank the crab for it's life. Really. It is giving it's whole life, unwillingly, for my family's sustenance. The least I can do is give thanks and then make it's end quick.

Dungeness crab's powerful pincer

Okay, so down to business. I sneak up behind the live, feisty crab and get one set of legs in each hand. The crab doesn't think that this is a good idea and it takes a little convincing to get those pincer legs stretched out and grasped firmly while staying out of harms way.

I wear gloves so that my not-so-delicate hands are not abraded by the crab's sharp exoskeleton.

Keeping the pinkies out of the way.

This is the ugly part, now.

I bring the forward part of the carapace (back) hard against a corner, such as the corner of the boat, or in this case, the corner of the cleaning table. That pulls the back  off of the crab. Right after that I push my thumbs into the 'belly' of the crab, pulling down on the legs and breaking the crab in half.

That usually takes the fight right out of them.

Flippant comments aside, this can be done quickly to minimize the creature's suffering.

I pull the back off and pull the two body halves apart.

Hanging onto the legs, I shake the viscera into the water. 

Shaking the crab guts out.

Crab innards, aka crab butter, may contain paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). It is not safe to eat crab butter! Besides, eating crab guts is gross and disgusting. PSP will not be in the crab meat.

The gills are still attached to the  crab sections.  They may be cream colored, brown, or grey. It is easy to pull the gills and mandibles off.

I usually give the shells a quick going over with a scrub brush to remove any mud that may be caught in the corners. A good rinse is the last step before cooking.

The Dungeness crab gills need to be removed.

A final rinse removes any yucky bits.

This post is about cleaning crab, so I'll just give a few quick notes about cooking. Cooking crab has its controversies: steamed vs. boiled, fresh water vs. salt water. The only for-sure thing is that the crab needs to be cooked immediately and well.

I keep it simple. I bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the crab sections, quickly bring it back to a boil, and time for 17 minutes. But who am I kidding? That man, the love of my life, usually handles the crab cooker. I just make sure that there is melted butter to dip the crab meat in.

Ocean's blessings to you all,

Alaska Beachcomber

P.S. My guy wishes to convey to you the importance of remembering to clean the crab cooking pot as soon as it cools down. We know. In the bliss of eating fresh crab, that little chore may slip by. The next day that crab foam has turned to cement on the sides of the pot. They should make the world's strongest adhesive out of the stuff. Just letting you know...


More about Dungeness crab: A Peek at Commercial Dungeness Crabbing

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