By Dan Kirk
‘Tis the season to…crab! And by proxy, to eat crab too. And like always, just to look for crab. The majority of crabbers will be out on the waters for Dungeness crab, Metacarcinus magister, which are rich in flavor and robust in economic revenue. If you are a crabber, one hot tip for bait is to batter raw chicken with cherry Kool-Aid packets. I heard this from a friend of a friend and it sounds like it passed through the game of telephone, but who knows, if you try this you might hit the jackpot in your crab-pot. If you’re not crabbing and just on the shoreline, you may (if you’re lucky) see Dungeness, or you may see the Slender Crab, or Cancer gracilis, which is a smaller doppelganger to the Dungeness. Often, the Slender crab gets mixed with juvenile Dungeness, because they are the only crabs that share white tipped chelae (claws). Additionally, tops of the claws are sharp-edged, with two or three prominent teeth, but these edges are not the saw tooth-like serrations seen in Dungeness.
Because there is a size regulation for crabbing, the Slender crab is more often than not too small (2-4 inches) to legally harvest, and wouldn’t yield much meat anyway. It’s best to catch and release or just observe. If you happen to see one and you’re not alone, the one fun fact you could tell the person you are with is that young Slender crabs are noted for “riding” jellyfish (typically Phacellophora camtschatica) where they will both steal some of their food (like fish eggs and other larvae) and protect them from parasites. This is nice to imagine. Other foods these crabs eat are oyster spat, or oyster larvae. Oyster farmers will sometimes have to make rafts for oyster spat collection to thwart animals like the Slender crab from denting oyster reef growth. Sounds like maybe the Slender crab is also a pest, but aren’t we all sometimes?
Whether you’re in Southern California or up in Alaska, you have the opportunity to check out these petite crabs all along the west coast. You also have the opportunity to see the Slender Crab spider, which is out there in the world too.