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Squeezing Out of a Tight Space

For a few days around the full moon, blue crabs are at their most vulnerable    

            Our precious resource, the Atlantic blue crab, grows by backing out of its armored shell. This feat is achieved by the crab swelling its body with water until it literally bursts out of the back seam. The crab will then begin wriggling free, leg by leg times eight plus two claws.

            Full moons like the one coming August 7 are prime shedding times.

            Once out, the exposed crab is a soft-shell, vulnerable to anybody who can grab hold of it and eat it. Among the predators are humans, as soft-shells are considered a delicacy by many of us.

            The soft-shell feels like parchment paper and is squishy to the touch while hardening a new shell, which takes about three days.

            Hardening can be accelerated if the crab is exposed to light, according to crabbers who deal in soft-shells.

            To harvest soft-shells, crabbers can wait for nature to take its course. Or in their catches they can identify peeler crabs by the distinct white marking on their backfins. The peelers are held in shedding tanks, a system of interconnected sinks with flowing water. These shed tanks will house peeler crabs pulled up from commercial pots until they shed their shell. At that point, crabbers must be quick with the net, to prevent crab-ilism.

            Soft-shells are then sold live to seafood markets, restaurants and you and me, to be fried (or broiled) and devoured.