Dungeness crab, reportedly named after a small fishing village on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state, have been harvested commercially along the Pacific Coast since the late 1880’s. Abundance of these highly prized crustanceans fluctuates. Total coastwide production ranges from 35-55 million lbs. annually.
Method of Catch
Dungeness crabs are caught in circular steel traps commonly called “pots”. Weighing anywhere from 60 to 125 lbs. and measuring 36″ to 48″ across, each pot has a length of line with a buoy attached to mark its location for retrieval. The pots are baited with herring, squid and razor clams to attract the bottom-dwelling crabs during the one to three day “soak” period. Only male crabs measuring at least 6 1/4 in. across the shell may be harvested, with all female and small males returned to the sea to insure healthy stocks for future harvest. The average boat fishes 250-300 pots in depths ranging from 5-50 fathoms (30-300 ft.). Dungeness crabs are kept alive in tanks on-board the vessel, until they are delivered to a shoreside processor. Vessels range from the small wooden troller with its two-man crew, to the large steel combination vessel with a four-man crew capable of fishing around the clock in all kinds of weather.
Reproduction and life history: Dungeness crabs mate from spring through the fall. The male crabs are polygamous–each male crab may mate with more than one female crab. This may be an important factor in maintaining the reproductive
viability of this species because only male crabs can be harvested in commercial and personal use fisheries. Male crabs mate only with female crabs that have just molted (shed their old exoskeleton). Fertilization of the egg does not occur at the time of mating. The female crab stores the sperm until her eggs are fully developed. The eggs are fertilized when the female extrudes them under her abdomen where they are carried until hatching. A large female crab can carry 2.5 million eggs.
After hatching, the young crabs are planktonic and swim freely away from the female. Larval development takes from 4 months to as long as a year. Six successive stages (5 zoea and 1 megalopa) occur before the crabs molt into the first juvenile stage. These crabs grow each time they molt. During the first two years both sexes grow at similar rates but after two years the female crabs grow more slowly than the males. Sexual maturity may be reached at three years. At 4 to 5 years of age, a Dungeness crab can be over 6 1/2 inches in shell width and weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. A large male Dungeness crab can exceed 10 inches in shell width. The estimated maximum life span of this crab is between 8 and 13 years.
Dungeness crabs are widely distributed subtidally and prefer a sandy or muddy bottom in salt water. However, they are tolerant of salinity changes and can be found in estuarine environments. Dungeness crabs foraging behavior coincides with their habitat. These crabs scavenge along the sea floor for organisms that live partly or completely buried in the sand. They are carnivores, and their diet can include shrimp, mussels, small crabs, clams, and worms. Dungeness crabs are found only in the North Pacific. They range from Central California to The Gulf of Alaska.
Live Dungeness crabs are purplish-brown in color. Cooking brings out the bright orange color they are famous for. An average of 25% of a Dungeness crab’s weight is edible “meat”, making it one of the meatiest crabs available. Dungeness Crab is an excellent source of high-quality protein, containing all of the essential amino acids, while low in fat and calories. You’ll also find a rich supply of important minerals such as zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium and iron. It’s a natural for health-conscious customers.
Serving size: 3 oz. — Cooked, Edible Portion
Protein 19 g
Total Fat 1.06 g
Saturated 0.143 g
Monounsaturated 0.182 g
Polyunsaturated 0.346 g
Carbohydrates 0.808 g
Sodium 321 mg
Potassium 347 mg
Magnesium 49.3 mg
Cholesterol 64.6 mg
Source: Data provided by the Food Processor computerized nutrition system, ESHA Research, Salem, OR.
Dungeness Crab is one of the most festive crab dishes you can menu. It is classically served whole, either hot or cold, and paired with melted butter or dipping sauces. Dungeness Crab meat is traditionally menued in crab cocktails or with crisp greens in a Crab Louis salad. Extremely versatile, Dungeness Crab combines well with a myriad of seasonings and sauces in seafood stews or soups, appetizers or main dishes.