Important facts about the blue crab

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 12:00 PM.

By Tom Baird

 

A scene is played out almost daily along the shores and marshes of the Gulf coast. A blue crab warily approaches a scrap of meat in about five inches of water. After sampling for a moment, she settles down to serious feeding, tearing strips of flesh with her claws and passing them to her mouth. Lulled by this activity, the blue crab, attracted to the bait, realizes her mistake too late and is netted by a weekend crabber.

Of all the edible crabs, the blue crab is the most abundant and popular. Many Americans prefer crab meat to any other kind of seafood, and yet, these leggy crustaceans were once believed to be poisonous.

Crab fishing is one of the largest shell fish operations in the U.S., employing thousands of fishermen and processors. According to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in 2012, 8,089,890 pounds of hard-shelled blue crab were commercially harvested in Florida waters with a dockside value of $9,934,882. This number pales in comparison to North Carolina with over 30 million pounds of blue crabs harvested commercially, with a dockside value of $21 million.  The Chesapeake Bay area has traditionally been the leader in the blue crab harvest industry, contributing significantly to the economies of Maryland and Virginia, yet there have been major declines in the blue crabs harvested from Chesapeake Bay, and Louisiana now ranks number one in blue crab harvest. If Florida harvests about 8 million pounds of blue crab annually, when you consider that it takes 5 to 6 hard crabs to make a pound, that’s a lot of blue crabs. No figures are available for pounds taken by recreational fishermen or school kids.

Although for many years blue crabs were believed to be restricted to the U.S. Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico ranging from Massachusetts to Texas, the blue crab also inhabits the waters of Bermuda and mysteriously appeared in the Mediterranean Sea in 1948. Essentially a shallow water crab, it lives in bays, sounds and mouths of coastal rivers. Normally an inhabitant of salt water, the blue crab is also found in brackish and freshwater. Many Florida rivers have blue crab populations far from the sea.

The scientific name of the blue crab describes it nicely. From Latin, calli, meaning beautiful and nectes, meaning swimmer. In 1896, Mary Rathbun described the blue crab and gave it the species name sapidus, meaning savory. Very apt. Hence, Callinectes sapidus says savory, beautiful swimmer to scientists regardless of their national language.



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