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What Is the Brown Crab?

Lumara Lee
Lumara Lee

The brown crab, or cancer pagurus, is also known as the edible crab. It mainly inhabits shallow waters in the northern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. Fisheries in the British Isles rely on the brown crab for the majority of their commercial trade. Europeans are the main consumers of this tasty crustacean.

A crab’s shell is made of calcium and chitin. The young brown crab’s shell is purplish brown and becomes reddish brown when it reaches maturity. Like all crustaceans, the brown crab molts as it grows, shedding its shell to accommodate new growth. After the old carapace is shed, the new shell remains soft for a few days, leaving the crab in a vulnerable state until it hardens.

Fisheries in the British Isles rely on the brown crab for the majority of their commercial trade.
Fisheries in the British Isles rely on the brown crab for the majority of their commercial trade.

Mature brown crabs may measure a foot (30 cm) wide and weigh 6.6 pounds (3 kg). The brown crab has 10 legs and an average life span of 15 years, while some edible crabs have been known to live for 20. It has two eyes located on stalks, and moves by walking sideways.

Brown crabs are nocturnal, hiding among rocks during the day and then emerging at night to feed. The claws of the brown crab are powerful and can easily crush the shells of the mollusks and crustaceans that comprise the majority of its diet. Its main predator is the octopus.

Female edible crabs burrow into the sandy sea bottom and remain there for approximately five months as they wait for their eggs to hatch. A female brown crab can produce up to 20,000 eggs at one time. The newly hatched larvae drift on the water as small organisms known as plankton. They are preyed upon by shrimp, fish, whales, crustaceans and other creatures that eat plankton, while the juvenile crabs are eaten by seabirds.

The brown crab is usually caught in a baited trap called a crab pot. This is a square wire frame with one or more entrances. A crab can easily crawl through the openings to get to the food, but the pot is designed so that it is impossible for the crab to get back out.

In some parts of the world, brown crabmeat is considered a delicacy. The claws contain white meat, while the meat in the body is brown. Crabmeat is high in protein, and low in fat and calories. It is nutritious, being a source of essential fatty acids and other nutrients which include potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Crabmeat also provides calcium, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins B12 and C.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a brown crab and where can it be found?

The brown crab, also known as the edible crab or Cancer pagurus, is a species of crustacean native to the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It thrives in cold, shallow waters, often around rocky outcrops and seabeds. According to the Marine Conservation Society, brown crabs are particularly abundant around the coasts of the British Isles, Norway, and as far south as Portugal.

How can you identify a brown crab?

A brown crab is easily identifiable by its reddish-brown shell, pie-crust edge, and black-tipped pincers. It has a robust, oval carapace that can grow up to 30 cm across. The Marine Stewardship Council notes that males have larger claws compared to females, which have a broader abdomen shaped to carry eggs.

What does the brown crab eat?

Brown crabs are omnivorous scavengers, feasting on a diet that includes mollusks, worms, starfish, and dead organic matter. Their strong pincers allow them to crack open shells, making them effective predators. Research from the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology indicates that their diet varies with availability, season, and habitat.

Is the brown crab commercially important?

Yes, the brown crab is a significant catch for the fishing industry, especially in Europe. It is prized for its meat, found both in the claws and body. The UK government's statistics show that thousands of tonnes are harvested annually, making it a key species for coastal economies and a staple in seafood cuisine.

How do brown crabs reproduce?

Brown crabs mate in the spring and summer when the female molts and is receptive. The male deposits sperm into the female, who can store it until her eggs are ready to be fertilized. According to the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, a single female can carry up to 3 million eggs, which she releases into the sea after fertilization.

What are the conservation concerns for brown crabs?

While brown crabs are not currently endangered, there are concerns about overfishing and habitat destruction. Conservation efforts include size limits, seasonal closures, and protected areas to ensure sustainable populations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) monitors their status and promotes responsible fishing practices to prevent population decline.

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    • Fisheries in the British Isles rely on the brown crab for the majority of their commercial trade.
      By: Fernbach Antal
      Fisheries in the British Isles rely on the brown crab for the majority of their commercial trade.