Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Maryland Crab ... Working the Line

 This morning we spotted a wild turkey that
decided to make its way through our
yard ... by the time I grabbed my camera
she vanished into the woods.
 The westies caught site of her and
now are on a perpetual watch & wait mission.
 While 'turkey waiting' I took some morning
photo's.   This lead me to create a post dedicated
to the men who 'work the line' for the famous
Maryland Blue Crab.
 The Maryland Blue Hard Shell Crab’s
meat is considered one of sweetest meats there is.

The scientific name for the Blue Crab is Callinectes: (Greek)
and translates to Beautiful Swimmer. 
Crabs can only swim and walk from side to side instead
of forward and backward.  Cannibalism is common of young smaller
crabs by larger crabs and may help regulate population surplus.
Crabs are also scavengers and predators;
they will eat live or dead fish, clams, snails, and ocean vegetation.

Native Americans for centuries living on the Delmarva Peninsula
took pleasure in eating these crustaceans, and introduced
the European settlers to them.  Early treaties included
provisions for the rights of Native Americans for
“Hunting, Crabbing, Fowling, and Fishing.”

#1 Jimmy Crabs
The number one Jimmy crabs are male crabs that
are full of meat and typically the most sought after crabs.
You can identify the male crabs by the bluish color on the tip of the claws.
You can also identify the male crabs by looking at
the bottom side or belly of the crab.  The bottom apron is
the shape of the Washington monument.
This shape is totally different from the females. 
 The #1 Jimmy typically has a darker, older looking shell
and sometimes has what looks like rust on the bottom of the shell.
Valued for the meat they contain, they are considered the crabs of summer.
The #1 Jimmy Crabs are graded by size.  The measurement is taken
 from the left point of the hard shell to the right point of the hard shell.

The sizing is as follows: 
Small Crabs  5-5 ½ inches;  Medium Crabs  5 ½-6 inches
Large Crabs  6-6½ inches;  Jumbo Crabs  6½-7 inches
Colossal or Heavyweights  7+inches
[These crabs are a rarity and therefore are not always available]

The grading of hard shell crabs can depend on the
region the crabs are harvested.  In the lower Chesapeake Bay
some companies call a 5 ½ - 6 inch crab a Large crab
which only measures to be a medium on our scale.
There is no industry standard for grading hard crabs.
For instance, a crab that is graded "large" in the lower 
Chesapeake Bay region would be graded "medium" in the upper regions.

#2 Jimmy Crabs
The number two Jimmy crabs which are sometimes called
“whitey Crabs” are the male crabs that either do not meet
a certain measurement (from shell point to shell point)
or are not full of meat.  They are typically caught
right after shedding their old shell and have
not quite filled out their new bigger shell.  These crabs are
typically harvested and sold to the crab picking companies
because of their cheaper cost and the ease of removing the meat. 

 #3 Sook Crabs
The number three Sook crabs are the mature female
crabs which means they are able to mate and carry eggs. 
You can quickly identify the sook crabs by the
orange color on the tips of the claws.  You can also identify
the sook crabs by looking at the bottom of the crab. 
The apron on the bottom has the shape of a dome
sometimes referred to as the Capital Dome. 
The rounded abdomen is free to open (not sealed shut)
 therefore allowing her to mate and carry eggs. 
The sook crabs are typically sought after for the sweet
taste and the egg roe that sometimes is present inside the crab.
Sooks tend to have less meat than the Jimmies and
usually end up in the picking houses for crabmeat. 
#4 Sally Crabs
The Sally crabs or “she crab” are the immature female
crabs which means they cannot mate, or carry eggs. 
They also have an orange color on the tips of the claw
like the #3 Sook Crabs.  They can be identified by looking
at the bottom of the crab.  The apron on the bottom is the
shape of a triangle or pyramid.  The sally crab has not yet
mated and has not yet carried eggs.
She will be mated after she sheds her hard outer shell.

Sponge Crabs
The sponge crab is a female crab that has been mated
 and is carry eggs under her apron.
She will typically carry over two million eggs.
Due to sea predators only 1 or 2 eggs of the over two million eggs
will ever make it to be a blue crab.
Soft Shell Crabs
In order to grow the blue crab goes through
 a molting period where it sheds it old hard shell
which is replaced with a new larger shell.
During the molting process the old shell is released
 exposing a soft shell that has grown under the old hard shell.
The new shell typically stays soft as it quickly
grows to become a bigger shell. The crab will stay in
this soft state for 1 to 2 days before turning hard.
By looking at the swimming paddle of the blue crab,
 it can be determined how soon the crab will shed
 its hard outer shell.  Once caught, these crabs are
separated and will be sold as peelers.
The peelers are placed in shedding tanks along with other peelers.
The shedding tanks are monitored 24 hours a day to make
 sure the soft crab is removed the instant it releases the old shell.
This reason for the monitoring is to keep the other crabs
from eating the soft crab after it sheds its hard outer shell.

Soft Shells are graded into the following sizes.
The measurement is taken from point to point of the soft shell:

Hotel  4 ½-5 inches;  Prime  5 – 5 ½ inches
Jumbo  5 ½ -6 inches;  Whales  6+ inches

This ends today's lesson in the
Maryland Blue Crab
the men who work the line for hours on end.


  1. I hope that was the animal type of wild turkey not the drink!They are now on a mission!
    Best wishes Molly

  2. a little early in the year for a turkey hunt but I suppose it doesn't hurt to get a head start on things :)