Crabbing – Making Memories

velvetcrab
Velvet Crab

Crabbing is an essential part of childhood. I remember doing it on various childhood holidays. The excitement of dangling a bit of weighted string off a jetty with a lump of pork chop and hauling up monsters (and then watching parents trying to put the in a bucket without losing their fingers) stays with you.

ediblecrab
Brown (or Edible) Crab

We’re a little more sophisticated now and use a crab snare, although there’s a range of equipment you can use (albeit a length of string, pebble with a hole in and a bit of chicken works perfectly well!). A crab snare is small, wire metal box which you put the bait in, and attached to the box are nylon free running snares.

Whether you take the crab back home (or to the campsite) and eat it, or simply set it free, your children will have the experience of being close to nature, being away from tablets and playstations, and… well… being being kids. Crabbing is a ‘quality time’ thing to do.

Your children are unlikely to remember hours on Minecraft, but they will remember catching their first crab. Make a competition out of it. A prize for the first caught, the biggest and the most caught.

There are 65 different species of crab in the seas around the British Isles. The brown and velvet crabs are particularly common (and make a very good meal!). Brown crabs have particularly strong claws used for crushing mussel shells (so be careful… don’t say we didn’t warn you!). The crab you’re most likely to find is the shore crab (and yes they’re edible, with a sweet flavour… very popular in Spain).

Bait

crabnet
Crab Net

Crabs detect things by sense of smell, so the smellier the better. Raw food such as pork, chicken or fish is ideal but do make sure the kids wash their hands before eating ice cream after they’ve been crabbing! Oily fish works well, and a piece of mackerel (or mackerel head) is good to bail cage or net traps (I never did work out how to tie a fish head onto a string). Even better if you leave the bait out for a day or so to get a bit rank and even smellier!

Equipment

Take your pick…

Go Traditional: A simple length of string (or paracord) tied around a rock to weight it down (or use a large fishing weight) and then wrapped around bacon, chicken or pork chop works well. It’s how I used to catch crabs as a kid. The crabs cling on, and you haul them up from a jetty or sea wall hoping they won’t let go (they usually don’t)!

crabbingline
Safety Lines

Safety Rigs: For a couple of pounds, you can buy a hand reel, line, with a weight and netting bag attached to the end. Quite why they’re called safety lines escapes me, but they work well, and I always have two in the boot of the car (no comments please that it’s about time I cleaned the car out).

Crabbing Nets: These are large nets much like a bucket, which you pop bait into, drop to the sea floor, wait and then can scoop up several crabs at a time.

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My Crab Snare

Crab Snares: Little seen in the UK, but popular in America (and introduced to me by Thomas), the picture is of my very own crab snare. A small, plastic coated wire cage, with free running snares attached. You’ll need to attach your own line (string or paracord is fine) and weight down the cage (pebble or a fishing weight). You can also attach these snare boxes to a fishing rod! Use a decent strength line as weighted down with three crabs, these boxes can get heavy! The secret is to slowly haul (or reel) in the line so the snares draw closed on the crab legs and claws. Be warned, removing the crab from the snare can be an adventure (yes, those claws do nip).

 

Pyramid Star Crab Traps: If you find the idea of dealing with snares and pincers a little scary, why not try a pyramid trap. These are clever pieces of kit where, when lowered to the sea bed, the four sides open up, allowing the crabs to scuttle to the bait. Draw the string up, and the sides close shut! No risk of losing your catch, and once you’ve hauled it up, place it on the ground, lower the cage to the ground and the sides come back open.

 

You may want to put the crabs back, and that’s fine. It’s a matter of choice. Personally, I’d eat them if they’re a reasonable size (whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch never tried one of these!).

See our article on Guilt Free Crab Killing.

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Catching Crayfish

northamerican
North American Signal Crayfish

Crayfish are a wonderful delicacy, and in the right locations you can catch 20 to 30 in a couple of hours by simply tossing a trap into water where they’re present. Please be aware that you need a license to capture native white clawed cray fish. In many waterways, an invasive species, North American Signal Crayfish are also present, and these are a pest. They spread a disease which harms native stocks, and damage river banks and eat salmon and trout eggs.

You need three things to catch non-native crayfish in England and Wales:

1. A lawful trap;

2. The landowner’s permission;

3. Consent from the Environment Agency in England or National Resource Wales (this is free). This application form should be used.

whiteclawed
White Clawed Crayfish

Once your application is approved, you will receive identity tags for your traps and a catch return form. Please be aware that if you catch crayfish without consent and using equipment which does not meet the Government requirements you may be prosecuted. If you catch a North American signal crayfish by mistake and throw it back in the water, this in itself could be a criminal offense. The maximum fine is £40,000 and you could face a year in jail.

If you want to catch crayfish in Scotland, contact Marine Scotland on 0300 244 4000. North American signal crayfish are still relatively rare in Scotland, and licenses may be more difficult to obtain than in England. If you’re going to catch them, do it legally. The risk to the environment from breaking the law (and to you personally if prosecuted for unlawful trapping) simply isn’t worth it.

Identifying Species: The colour of white clawed crayfish claws is lighter on the underside than on the top (hence the name) and the claws are smaller relative to the size of its body. The bottom of North American signal crayfish claws are red with a prominent white or bluish patch in the claw joints (and the claws are large!).

Compliant Traps: Crayfish traps must conform to specific criteria. This is to stop other species such as otters from being caught and drowning. Trap entrances must be no more than 95mm wide, be no longer than 600mm, be no wider than 350mm and have mesh no wider than 30mm.

Be cautious of buying collapsible traps online. Some are not UK compliant. We like the Swedish Crayfish Trap, which is! If you want one which collapses for convenient transportation, don’t buy the ‘luxury’ ones online which tend to be too long (over 600mm). Jackal Outdoors sell one which is the right legal length and width.

Baiting Crayfish Traps: Fish heads, cat food or even salami is used. Most crayfish nets have a small zipped or drawstring bag for you to put the bait in. You’d be amazed at how many you can catch in some waterways, with 80 being caught by one friend in an afternoon.

Placing Traps: In the South of England, crayfish have spread all over the river system. You’ll find it easier to get a license in the south than in the north or Scotland. Place the baited trap in the water course (some take a can of cat food, drill holes in it and use that as the bait. Weight it down with a couple of stones inside to stop it floating away. Tie a length of paracord to the net and stake the other end down firmly on the river bank. It really isn’t harder than that. Come back and check in a few hours. Make sure you wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to stop the risk of transferring crayfish diseases to other water courses.

Preparing Crayfish: Boil them, skewer them and cook over a campfire, or put straight onto a barbecue. Mr Mears shows you how to humanely despatch them in the video below. You’ve done the difficult part… you’ve got your license, get permission from the land owner, bought a suitable trap, waited patiently… was it worth the effort? For a bucket full of baby lobster… HELL YES!

 

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