2015-08-13 / Nature

Blue Crabs at Peak

By Jack Kelly


Brayton Marvell, 6, and his sister Avery, 10, of Newport, use raw chicken legs to attract blue crabs at Gooseneck Cove saltmarsh. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Brayton Marvell, 6, and his sister Avery, 10, of Newport, use raw chicken legs to attract blue crabs at Gooseneck Cove saltmarsh. (Photo by Jack Kelly) If you are considering going trolling for blue crabs, delicacies which are teeming in local waters, you have about two more weeks to do so.

According to area marine biologists, the warmer local waters, brought on as an effect of climate change, have aided the growth of the blue crab population in Rhode Island. Local crabbers can be seen dotting the shorelines from Newport to Hundred Acre Cove in Barrington, usually carrying a bucket with a huge chicken leg on the end of a thick rope – raw meat fully attached – which these crabs seemingly can’t resist.

The crabber throws the rope about six to eight feet, then slowly drags it in, usually with a pair of crabs attached to the meat. Since they are highly sought after for dinner, and very often severely overfished, the crabs are monitored by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Manage- ment, which has set a number of regulations governing catch limits. Using a scoop or crab net, trot, or hand line, no more than 25 legalsized crabs a day can be harvested. Any that are less than the legal minimum size of five inches (measured from the end of one spike across the body shell to the end of the opposite spike) must be returned immediately to the water. It is also illegal to crab from sunset to sunrise.


Blue crabs are named for their brilliant blue claws. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Blue crabs are named for their brilliant blue claws. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The species is worth protecting. They are among the most unusual and interesting creatures dependent upon salt marshes. Blue crabs are found from Nova Scotia to Florida, with the largest population found in the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding estuaries.

Named for their brilliant blue claws, females have striking red coloring on the tips, while the rest of their body is a mottled collection of lighter colors. The crabs feed on small live fish, oysters, hard clams, carrion, sea lettuce plants, and the roots and shoots of eelgrass and marsh grasses.

Besides an apparent addiction to chicken, the breed is also known for cannibalism, with up to 16 percent of its diet consisting of young members of the species.

When the crab molts its shell to grow, it becomes highly vulnerable to marine predators such as skates, striped bass, and other crabs, as well as wading birds, like great blue herons and green herons.

Females will only mate once in their lifetime and will spawn within two to nine months of breeding. Once she mates, the female migrates to the high salinity waters of salt marshes, lower estuaries and other new shore spawning areas. Biologists have a theory that females may return to their own point of origin.

Once the female is ready to spawn, she will construct a cohesive mass or “sponge” of eggs, which will remain attached to her abdomen until larvae emerge. The larvae will be carried across the marsh and out to sea, where they will continue to grow.

The average life expectancy of blue crabs in the wild is one to three years. Mid-August is the peak time to catch them.

For more information, visit dem. ri.gov or call 401-222-3070.

Return to top