An icon of the Pacific coast, this crab is prolific from the Aleutian Islands to southern California. Dungeness crabs have a hard-shelled, oval-shaped carapace, a pair of large claws and four legs. These bottom dwellers start life as larvae and develop by regularly shedding their shell and growing a new, larger one. During this molting period, crabs hide in rocky, creviced habitat.
Live Dungeness crabs usually have a light green or purplish brown shell with a serrated edge that turns red when cooked. The size, colour and flavour of Dungeness vary depending on the season, local habitat, feed and other ecological factors. Just as terroir gives wine its distinct character, the natural marine environment—or “meroir”—of a region imparts unique qualities to local crab.
Adult crabs can live up to 10 years, with females reaching reproductive maturity around two to three years of age. Once mature, female crabs molt (shed their shell) between May and August. Mating then occurs immediately after molting and before the new exoskeleton hardens. In October or November, eggs are fully developed and are extruded and fertilized. Eggs then remain attached to the female’s abdomen until hatching in late winter. Female crabs often bury themselves in sand as the eggs develop. The larval phase lasts about four months in various stages of growth until eventually, from May to September, the larvae morph into juvenile crabs. Juvenile crabs remain in lower intertidal or shallow sub-tidal waters over winter. At one year old, they begin the progressive move towards deeper water. Adult crabs weigh between 1.5 to three pounds (0.7 to 1.4 kg).
This fishery uses wire traps submerged on the seafloor to catch Dungeness crab. Traps are attached to lines and marked by floats on the surface. The traps attract crab with bait and capture them live.