What is Live Dungeness Crab?

If you’re reading this, then it is highly likely that you are interested in purchasing and cooking live dungeness crab—otherwise, you must simply love learning about interesting living species. Either way, after reading this article, you will have a better idea of what a live Dungeness crab is, just like the sustainably harvested options from Fathom Seafood. You can also continue reading the consecutive articles that go more in depth about the sustainability of the Dungeness and the handling and cooking of them. We’ll even provide you with various crab recipes to spice up your cooking repertoire. 

Let’s get started with some Dungeness Crab 101. 

Where do the Dungeness crab get their name?

The Dungeness crab gets its name from one of the areas in which it lives—“a shallow, sandy bay inside of Dungeness Spit on the south shore of the Straits of Juan de Fuca”—which is located between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula--the port of Dungeness, Washington. 

Dungeness Crab Habitat

Where do Dungeness crab come from?

Some individuals are very interested in exactly where their food comes from. 

Dungeness crab typically breed and live off the coast of Alaska, including its bays and estuaries; although they can be found in other places, such as the Northwest Coast of the lower 48. More specifically, Dungeness crab habitats sprawl from the Aleutian Islands, which is an archipelago in Alaska, all the way to Magdalena Bay, Mexico. 

You can find a plethora of Dungeness crab in Washington and Oregon, where they are sustainably caught and sold. Washington is actually considered the seafood capital of the West Coast. 

Let’s get more specific about its habitat…

As stated before, Dungeness crabs are mainly found around the Alaskan, Washington, and Oregon coastlines, but do reside other places as well. 

“Adults prefer eelgrass beds, and sandy or muddy bottom areas. Juveniles frequent shallow estuarine areas with protective structures such as pilings or woody debris and avoid habitat overlap with the adult crabs,” (Canada.ca). 

The crabs are able to survive under a varied depth of ocean—living up to 230 meters down—although they are most bountiful in the area of 90 meters. 

What is the appearance of a Dungeness crab?

Two Dungeness Crabs

Image Credit: Phys.org 

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife

“The Dungeness crab is a decapod, related to shrimp, lobster, and other crab. It has a broad, oval body covered by a hard chitinous shell, four pairs of walking legs and a pair of claws. This species can be distinguished from other commercially important crabs (king and Tanner crab) because its legs are much smaller and shorter in relation to its body size and because the dorsal surface of its carapace is smooth and spineless.”

If you look closely, the Dungeness crab almost has a bluish or purplish tint to it in and around its earth tones, making it unique-looking and even more aesthetically pleasing compared to other types of crab. 

These creatures typically grow to 6” to 7” across, but can grow up to 10” or more in certain environments and can weigh up to 4 pounds and live up to 10-13 years in the wild!

To eat or be eaten…

Just like any living being, the Dungeness crab preys upon other living beings and also has a long list of predators who would love to make the crab its next meal, including most of us reading this. 

According to the National Park Service

Dungeness crabs scavenge the bottom of the seafloor for organisms and are also known to consume shrimp, mussels, small crabs, clams and worms.

Crab predators include other crab species, halibut, dogfish, sculpins, octopus and sea otters. Cannibalism may occur, particularly on young crabs during the first weeks after settlement to the bottom, or on newly molted crabs. Salmon and other fin fish feed on crab larvae when they are available in the plankton.

Are Dungeness crab caught both commercially and for sport?

Catching Live Dungeness Crab

Image Credit: Earth Island Journal 

The simple answer is absolutely. And it’s a money-making business. 

Experts at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife give us some insight into the history of commercial crabbing.   

“Dungeness crab have been landed commercially on the west coast of the United States since 1848 when San Francisco fishermen began the fishery. The current foundation for regulations in the fishery concerning size, sex, and season were established over 100 years ago! Crabbers of the early 1900s were limited to 6 inch and larger male crabs with a closed season in the fall. Flash forward to present day and west coast Dungeness crab landings are stronger than any time in history with the foundation of regulations nearly identical to those in place in 1905. Since the fishery was established, Oregon has consistently been one of the largest producers of Dungeness crab on the west coast.”

Dungeness crabs make commercial fishermen a pretty penny. Annually, 20,000 tonnes of this type of crab are caught or farmed. 

The popularity of crabbing for sport also helps coastal economies. 

In Puget Sound for example, which is one of the most popular fisheries to go crabbing, sport fisherman and ladies alike, and even children, come during fishing season to see how many pounds of Dungeness crab they can catch. On average, sports fishermen catch around 1.5 million pounds of this type of crab a year. That equals a growth in tourism and the coastal economy. 

Of course if you are interested in crabbing, make sure to research the area’s requirements, such as obtaining a license and a report card, as well as any other regulations you may need to be aware of such as a daily bag limit (wdfw). 

No matter if you are interested in catching live Dungeness crab yourself, have been inspired to cook up an elaborate meal with crab as the main dish, such as the great options from Fathom Seafood, or simply want to admire them—there are plenty out there for all to enjoy. 

Continue reading our next articles about the Dungeness crab and what they have to offer. 





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