Maine Seafood Guide - Crab


species description | season | status | regulatory authority |
harvest method | recreational harvest | health benefits & risks | 

buying & preparing | brands | certifications | links

Species Description
Jonah crab Cancer borealis
Rock or peekytoe crab Cancer irroratus
Red crab Chaceon quinquedens


“Maine crabmeat” comes from two species, "peekytoe" or rock crab, and Jonah crab. Jonah crabs are a bit larger and reddish with large, black-tipped claws, and are found offshore. The smaller rock crab lives closer to shore, in bays and rivers.

Red crab inhabits deep (1,000-2,000 feet) waters of the continental shelf and slope off the Atlantic coast.

Jonah and rock crabs can be harvested year-round from Maine waters, although fall is peak season when the crabs are full of meat. Many harvesters trap crabs to supplement their income from lobster and other fisheries.
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Status (see the About page for definitions)

An Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Jonah crab was developed in 2015 to promote conservation, reduce the possibility of recruitment failure, and allow fishing to continue. The plan lays out specific management measures in the commercial fishery, including a 4.75” minimum size and a prohibition on the retention of egg-bearing females. Addendum I, approved in May 2016, establishes a bycatch limit of 1,000 crabs per trip for non‐trap gear (e.g., otter trawls, gillnets) and non‐lobster trap gear (e.g., fish, crab, and whelk pots) effective January 1, 2017.

Deep-sea red crab is not subject to overfishing, however the status of the stock (biomass, growth, longevity, and abundance trends) is unknown.
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Regulatory Authority

Jonah crab are managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

A Maine lobster and crab license is required to harvest commercially.

New England Fishery Management Council regulates the deep-sea red crab fishery.
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Harvest Method
Crab or lobster pot; dragging.The offshore lobster fishery supplies crab to large shellfish dealers.
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Recreational Harvest
Permitted with a non-commercial lobster and crab license from the Department of Marine Resources.

Jonah crab limit of 50 per person per day; Jonah crabs must be larger than 4.75 inches across the shell. It is illegal to possess egg-bearing female Jonah crabs.

Parts of the Sheepscot, Damariscotta, and Medomak rivers have seasonal closures in the winter (December through April).

Part of the Penobscot River, north of Castine and Stockton Springs, is closed to crab fishing.
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Health Benefits & Risks
Maine crabmeat is low in fat, high in zinc, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Crab is low in mercury.

Crab is not usually affected by red tide, but purchase from a certified shellfish dealer or check the DMR hotline for harvesting closures if trapping crabs yourself: 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.
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Buying & Preparing
Crabs are rarely sold live in Maine; fresh and frozen crabmeat is the dominant product, and unless specified is usually a mix of both Jonah and rock crab. Maine crabmeat is sweet, firm, and finely textured, with a more delicate flavor than blue crab. Peekytoe meat is a bit firmer and finer than Jonah.

Most red crab goes to the wholesale/restaurant market.
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Companies, Brands, and Labels
Hand-picked crabmeat is widely available at most seafood retail outlets.
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Certifications & Verifications
Marine Stewardship Council (Atlantic deep-sea red crab 2009)
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species description | season | status | harvest method | recreational harvest
health benefits & risks | 
buying & preparing | brands certifications | links | featured harvester