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Blue Crabs: Enjoy Them While They Last

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Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are found in a 524 mile long estuary.  It runs from Cooperstown, NY down to Norfolk, VA.  It runs through Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, West Virginia, and ends in Norfolk, VA. The estuary is fed by 51 billion gallons of water that enter the bay daily from thousands of streams, creeks, and rivers. It holds about 18 trillion gallons of water.  The Chesapeake Bay watershed is unique in that it contains both fresh water and salt water.  About half of the water in the Bay comes from the ocean.

History

Chesapeake Bay circa 1610

The freshwater zone runs from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to north Baltimore. Freshwater birds, fish, and crustaceans can survive there. As you travel south, the water becomes saltier. When it reaches the bay, the salt water is as salty as the ocean. About half of the Bay’s salt water comes from the Atlantic Ocean.

The Chesapeake Bay estuary was formed by a meteor that hit in that area approximately 35.5 million years ago. Rising sea levels, at the end of the last ice age, flooded the area, further defining this estuary.

Many Virginia city names are from the Algonquian tribes such as Chesapeake and Occoquan and Accomack. Many websites state that the name “Chesapeake Bay was an Algonquin Indian word (Chesapiooc), which meant something like “great shellfish bay” However, in 2005, an Algonquian linguist (Blair Rudes) dispelled that belief, which is incorrect.  The meaning of “Chesapiocc” is more closely translated as “a great water”, which may have been located in a village that was at the bay’s mouth.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has an excellent timeline of the history of this area. The Chesapeake estuary is the largest estuary of more than 100 estuaries throughout the USA. The area is host to more than 250 species of fish and shellfish. However, production of soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico has now exceeded the Chesapeake Bay.

Crab Description

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources website has excellent information including a link to show the “apron” of both male and female blue crabs.  Only a “Jimmy” (male blue crab) can be harvested.  Neither a “Sook” (mature female blue crab) nor a “Sally” or “She-Crab” (immature female blue crab) can be harvested.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab

Blue crabs have a brilliant blue color on their front claws (female claw tips are red) with an olive or bluish-green shell.  They have paddle shaped legs that make them excellent swimmers.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), founded in 1967, is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay. CBF leads the way in restoring the Bay and its rivers and streams.  Major threats to this area are: Agriculture, Air Pollution, Chemical Contamination, Climate Change, Dead Zones (too little oxygen to support a healthy ecosystem), Fisheries, Habitat Loss, Land Use, Natural Gas, Polluted Runoff, Sewage and Septic Systems.  Even with all of their work, the Bay is still a system dangerously out of balance.  Land area the size of Washington DC is lost every four years.

How to Eat Instructions

Instructions were provided in the Ocean City SunnyGuide.com to break open a blue crab. The instructions are below.

Apron of Blue Crab

Apron of Blue Crab

  1. Turn the Old Bay-drenched crustacean upside down and remove the “apron”. The apron starts in the center of the crab and meets at the back of the top shell.
  2. Remove the top shell and scrape away the feathery gills on the sides and internal organs. Hint: try the yellow “mustard”—it literally looks like a Dijon and is delicious!
  3. Here’s where I remove the legs, very gingerly to keep as much backfin meat attached as possible. It just feels rewarding to access the meat so easily…
  4. Then break each leg at each joint to remove the meat from them. It may not be much, but waste not, want not. Snap the claw apart at the joint to access its interior meat as well.
  5. That leaves you with two halves of the crab, each containing five chambers of meat. Cut length-wise through each half of the crab. You now have the crab quartered with ten accessible chambers of meat. Easily remove the meat with the tip of your knife and enjoy.

    Steamed Chesapeake Blue Crabs

    Steamed Chesapeake Blue Crabs

  6. Start again with the next crab and keep repeating! Though it’s not necessary, try dipping your crab meat in apple cider vinegar or drawn butter. Yum!

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Updated: October 21, 2016 — 4:02 pm

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