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Red crabs having impact in Virginia

Clusters of red crabs with top shell removed.  (Photo courtesy of Virginia Marine Products Board)

by Larry Chowning

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell issued a news release on June 26 welcoming the first landing of Atlantic deep sea red crab to Virginia via a joint venture between Atlantic Red Crab Company of New Bedford, Mass., and L.D. Amory Co. Inc., and Graham & Rollins Inc., both of Hampton.

The release noted the “F/V Hannah Boden,” a fishing vessel made famous in the motion picture “The Perfect Storm,” delivered the inaugural catch to L.D. Amory in Hampton.

Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore attended the landing on behalf of the governor and in support of Virginia’s seafood industry, the third largest in the nation behind only Louisiana and Alaska. Interestingly, Virginia’s seafood industry falls under the auspices of agriculture.

“The harvesting of deep sea red crabs off the coast will enhance our already sterling reputation and provide more outstanding seafood choices for our citizens,” stated Governor McDonnell.

Since 1995, Atlantic Red Crab Company has operated a fleet of four vessels that land between four and five million pounds of red crab on an annual basis. According to the company’s spokesperson, the F/V Hannah Boden has been delivering approximately 10,000 pounds of Atlantic deep sea red crabs on a weekly basis since the vessel relocated to Hampton in July.

Prior to starting the business venture, the Virginia companies and Atlantic Red Crab worked with Virginia Tech’s Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and Virginia Sea Grant on various scientific and economic issues related to quality of the crabs and feasibility of operations.

Atlantic deep sea red crabs, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, are harvested off the U.S. coast between the Canadian border and North Carolina. The crabs, which are harvested year-round and managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service under a quota system, are known for their sweet tasting white meat and bright orange shell. 

Average size ranges between 5 and 7 inches across the back of the shell and they weigh between 1 and 2 pounds at harvest maturity. Unlike the shallow-water Chesapeake Bay blue crab, the cold-water red crab is harvested from a depth of 2,000 feet in 38-degree water temperature. It’s larger than the blue crab and known for its sweet flavor.

Presently, there are eight retail stores in the state selling red crabs. The only business on the Middle Peninsula selling red crabs is J&W Seafood in Deltaville.

Allie Bibee of J&W said red crab in the shell sells for $5.95 a pound, steamed or un-steamed. “We are selling a lot of red crabs because blue crabs are so scarce,” said Bibee. “The red crab has a real sweet taste. To me, it tastes a lot like snow crab legs.”

Throughout the bay region, red crabs are being sold either uncooked or steamed. The Old Bay Seafood market in Suffolk, the closest out-of-county retailer to Middlesex, sells individual live red crabs for $6 a pound and steamed for $6.50 a pound.

posted 07.24.2013

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