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Bringing home your catch

Dungeness and Red Rock Crab

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Items you’ll need for transporting your crab include an ice chest, ice, and a piece of burlap or large towel.

Determine gender
When hauling in a catch of Dungeness crab, you must immediately check the crabs’ gender and size. All female Dungeness crabs must be returned to the water. (You can keep both male and female red rocks crab.) To avoid getting pinched, either hold the crab on its back or grab its hind part.

Checking gender: Examine the crab. A female crab’s abdomen or tail flap, which is folded closely against its underside, is much broader and rounder than the male’s. Also, the comb-like fringe of hair around the edges of the tail flap is long in the female but rather short and barely noticeable in the male.

Checking size. To legally keep a Dungeness crab, its shell (carapace) must be at least 6¼ inches wide. The shell of a red rock crab must measure at least 5 inches across. Any crab you don’t keep should be gently returned to the water to protect their delicate internal body parts.

For more information, please see our Puget Sound sport crabbing website.

Storing and transporting
Crab should be kept alive and cooked as soon as possible. It’s essential to keep crab cool and damp until you are ready to cook them. Place the crabs into an ice chest and cover them with burlap or a towel soaked in salt water. Place ice over the burlap or towel to keep them cool. Don’t store crabs in water because they may not get enough oxygen.   

Preparing crab
The easiest way to prepare your crab for eating is to cook it first and then clean it.

You’ll need a large pot for boiling, a small mallet or hammer, a nutcracker and a small fork. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Immerse the live crab into boiling water for 18-20 minutes.
  2. Remove the crab from the pot and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking process and cool the shell for handling.
Remove the abdomen with your fingers (also called the apron, it is the flap of shell on the underside of the crab). Remove the outer shell (the back of the crab, also called the carapace) by sticking your thumb into the hole left from removing the abdomen and lifting up firmly. The shell will detach from the body with some guts attached. Remove and discard the leaf-like, spongy gills from either side of the body. Rinse out the greenish-brown guts. Break off and discard the mandibles, which are the mouthparts at the front of the crab. Turn the crab upside down, grip it on either side and place your thumbs underneath near the midline on the back (where the shell used to be). Push up with your thumbs and pull down with your hands; the crab will crack easily along its center line.   Pull all of the large chunks of meat out of the body, then break open the legs and claws using a mallet or nutcracker.