Summer Fun in the Hudson Valley 2011


(page 6 of 16)

crabbingPhotograph by Feng Yu/Shutterstock

Grab A Crab

When you think of fun activities on the Hudson River, many things spring to mind — kayaking, river cruises, fishing, among them. But one of the more often overlooked seasonal satisfactions is crabbing. There are bountiful blue crabs — the exact same kind that creep around the Chesapeake Bay — in our river, and yes, they are edible.

The young crabs are born at the mouth of the Hudson. At that point, “they look like little space aliens,” says Frances Dunwell, the Hudson River Estuary Coordinator for the DEC. Within two months they start to resemble crabs, although they are still not much bigger than a fingernail. Eventually, they’ll reach five to six inches across the back, not including their claws (which are blue when they are alive, but turn orange when cooked). There is no official crabbing season — they live in the estuary all year long — but they do tend to head south in the winter to the saltier waters of New York Bay. Come the warmer months they return to the mid-Hudson region.

“It’s great for kids because it is really easy to catch them,” says Dunwell. “You don’t need a hook. All you need is a string and a chicken drumstick or a rotten chicken neck. They’ll eat fresh food, they’ll eat rotten food, they’ll eat sea grasses. They’ll even eat each other, they’re not picky. You just throw the food onto a muddy bottom, wait a while and pull it in. If you see a crab trailing along you scoop it up with a net.”

So where are the hot spots? “You’ll have the most success in Cornwall Bay or farther south,” says Dunwell. Popular spots, according to Dunwell, include Bear Mountain, Iona island, and the Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point in New Windsor.

If you happen to catch a tagged crab you should return it and call the DEC. (The agency tags them to track their seasonal movement; they may travel as much as 150 miles in a year.) “People love it, it’s like winning the lottery,” says Dunwell. “They can’t wait to report it because they get a special hat. All they have to do is tell us the basic information about the size of the crab and where they caught it.” In return, the DEC will give you a little bio on your crab. Dunwell notes that you should also never take a “she” crab with eggs. These mamas-to-be, referred to as sponge crabs, are highly visible because the eggs are orange and resemble a sponge.

“The personality of the crab is what makes it so fun,” says Dunwell. “When you catch one, they stare you down, their eyes pop out, their claws go up, they’re ready for a fight. They do something we call a crab dance: they click their pincers and snap their claws above their head.” In addition, you don’t need a license to catch these crustaceans, although there is a limit of 50 crabs per day. “That is another great thing about it,” says Dunwell. “It’s one of the few things in life that is free.”

crab cracker tool

Cracking Your Crabs
So what’s the best way to eat your catch? Steaming them with Old Bay Seasoning is “still the tried and true way,” says Dunwell. But take note: the New York State Department of Health recommends that people eat no more than six blue crabs a month. Women of childbearing age and children should not eat any.

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