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Chesapeake Bay Workboats
The Development of the Deadrise Workboat
Harvesting the Bounty
Suggested Reading

Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
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Bank of America
Harvesting the Bounty
Skipjack dredging for crabs
Skipjack dredging for crabs
Checking crabs off of Tangier Sound, Tangier Island, Virginia
Checking crabs off of Tangier Sound, Tangier Island, Virginia
Skipjack with crabbing dedge
Skipjack with crabbing dedge
Packing Soft Crabs
Packing Soft Crabs

Most blue crabs are caught in crab pots. A crab pot is a large wire cage with several sections. The crabber puts bait, usually fish, in the bottom. The pot is then dropped into the river. A float marks its location and identifies its owner. The crab enters the pot and tries to escape by swimming up. It moves into an upper section of the pot and is trapped. A crabber in Virginia may work as many as five- hundred pots in a day. The pots are expensive and usually last only one season. Most crabbers learn to make their own pots.

Once the waterman empties his crab pots, the crabs must be sorted. First, each crab must meet the legal size limit. Its shell must be at least five inches from tip to tip. Smaller crabs must be returned to the water. Crabbers use a homemade measuring gauge to be sure the crab is a "keeper."

The keepers are then sorted by size and quality. The male crabs are called jimmies. They are the largest and bring the best price at the market. The female crabs are sooks. They are smaller and have less meat.

Sometimes the crab pot will contain a peeler. A peeler is a crab that is nearly ready to shed its shell. As the crab grows bigger, its shell does not grow. It must shed its old shell and grow a new, larger one. A "buster" has begun to shed, but is not totally free of its old shell. A soft-shell crab has shed its old shell, but the new shell has not yet formed.

Peelers, busters, and soft-shells are separated from the hard shell blue crabs. The Soft-shells go quickly to market. They are highly prized and expensive. The peelers and busters will be placed in a shedding float where they live and are protected until they become soft-shell. Some watermen will go crabbing only for soft-shells. Today, watermen catch hard crabs and keep them in shedding floats until they begin to lose their shell. Because a hard crab will kill and eat a soft crab, the shedding tanks must be carefully watched round the clock and the shedding crabs removed to another tank. A crab can shed up to twenty times a season depending on how fast it grows.

If you were to go crabbing just for fun, you might use a dip net and a chicken neck tied to a piece of string.

Catherine Via and Beatrice Taylor own Payne's Crab House in Urbanna, Virginia.

Click for QuickTime Video! « Click here to hear Catherine describe
how they process
and ship soft crabs.
Click for QuickTime Video! « Crabs molt to grow
a new shell.
Click here
to watch a "buster" become a "Soft-shell"
Learn more about catching crabs

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