Among the 850 known species of crabs in the world is the Blue Shell Land Crab of Central America and now of Florida! They are a tourist attraction in Florida during migration season! There are migrations to the sea every year, July through October!
My introduction to the Blue Shell Land Crab was in the jungles of Central America in the early sixties. They can grow to around 5.5 inches tip to tip and weigh about 18 ounces.
Once a year there is a massive migration of the land crab to the ocean. The females come out of the muddy, wet, jungle, and crawl miles to the sea to lay 300,000 to 700,000 eggs each.
Many of the eggs become food for fish and other aquatic animals. Once the migration begins, the ground is literally paved with them. One could not walk along a dirt path without stepping on them. Ease a vehicle along a dark two rut road at night and the sound of crunching tells you that you are driving on a road paved with the migrating Blue Shell Land Crabs!
The crabs generally feed on vegetation and many kinds of detritus including animal waste.
The natives of Central America catch the crabs, put them in wire cages. They feed them bread till the ground under the cage turns white. Then cook and eat the crabs.
They are advertised as a tourist attraction during migration in Florida with restrictions on how many you can catch.
I have eaten the Blue Shell Land Crab along with many other species in different countries but the sweetest tasting crab of all is the Blue Shell Crab of coastal Georgia.
Since you eat the whole body, one has to be taught how to eat them. For that reason they are not a popular item on inland restaurant menus. I have seen people knock a hole in the top of the shell and try to pick the meat with a fork. Nope!
I am sure you have heard of those famous Maryland Crab Cakes! At one time, the blue crab fishery along those shores collapsed. It was from overfishing as I recall. Tourists going for those Maryland crab cakes were eating Georgia blue crab.
Maryland continues to have a much more robust market for the blue shell so a large percentage of Georgia crabs continue to be flown to Maryland.
Georgia crabs were more plentiful 50 years ago. There were large crabbing operations with giant vats of steamed crabs being picked and packaged. All gone. There were about 250 crabbing permits available along our coast. I think there are now less than 50 working permits.
Why? Maybe over fishing, pollution of our marshes, poorly regulated fishery due to insufficient personnel to handle that and all the other fisheries. Why? Talk to the folks in Atlanta who fund the DNR.
The Georgia Blue Shell crabs are described by many names. These are just some.
Sook: Adult female.
Sally: Immature female crab.
Sponge crab: A female with an egg sack that contains millions of eggs. (The egg sack looks somewhat like an orange sponge) A female crab has red tipped claws that look like “painted fingernails” Wire traps are designed to allow the crabs, which swim sideways, to slide sideways through openings in the baited trap.
Chicken necks as bait are a favorite with recreational crabbers. The fun way to catch them is with a hand line. You want to see some excited kids! Watch them catch their own crabs!
If you are new here have someone show you the ins and outs of crabbing including best places to crab and how to cook and eat them! Don’t boil them. Steam them.
Years ago we would rent a bateau from Barbee’s dock at Isle of Hope. One dollar! We would row across the river and crab with hand lines. We could catch enough crabs on one tide to feed the family.
You are allowed, with a fishing license, six traps per person so you and a family member can work 12 traps. Put em in the water and leave them for a day under a marked green float.
The wife and I worked 12 traps one year and packaged 24 pounds of crab meat!
If you don’t have a friend experienced with crabbing then it is best to chat with a DNR agent before you go crabbing.
You need to be concerned about weather and tides for the time your traps would be out. High winds and high water can ruin your day!
Commercial traps are marked with a white numbered buoy identifying the owner. Don’t touch! Heavy fine!
Carry a ruler of some sort to insure that you do not take any crab less than 5 inches tip to tip!
Do not ever keep a sponge crab! You will be killing what could be thousands of crabs. Undersized and sponge crabs are illegal!
Learn courtesies that exist on the water in reference to docks, other traps, etc.
The blue crab fishery in Georgia in its depressed state still has a value of over $3 million a year.
Perhaps a few rules changes, less pollution of our marshes and perhaps better supervision of the fishery might make it worth much more.
Roy Hubbard, Richmond Hill