The edible crab (Cancer pagurus), also known as the pasty crab to those of us in Cornwall or the brown crab is a common crab found under rocks along our coasts. They get their name from their reddy-brown colour and a large oval-shaped carapace that is crimped around the edges to resemble a pie crust. These crabs can also be identified by their black-tipped claws. Females tend to be larger than males with an average carapace length of 98mm (4 inches) and males of 60mm (2.4 inches) but they have grown to a carapace width of 250mm (10 inches)!
Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Invertebrates that have exoskeletons, segmented bodies and paired jointed appendages)
Subphylum: Crustacea (Crustaceans – crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, prawns, krill, barnacles and woodlice!)
Class: Malacostraca (“soft shell” in Ancient Greek and is the largest class of crustaceans)
Order: Decapoda (“ten-footed” crustaceans)
Genus: Cancer (Marine crabs that typically have short claws and aren’t spiny)
Species: C. pagurus
You can find these tasty crabs anywhere from the lower shore to out in the sea up to 100m deep! The best place to find edible crabs is underneath big rocks or inside cracks in the rocks as they are nocturnal and like to hide during the day. But be careful about sticking your hands in small holes or you might get a pinch!
The edible crab will eat just about anything it can get its pincers on – mussels, whelks and even other crabs like porcelain crabs and squat lobsters. They are known to stalk and ambush their prey and dig down deep to get other tasty treats like the razor clam. Edible crabs have to be careful though as octopuses love to catch and eat them as well.
The crabbing industry is a big fishery in Europe and the edible crab is the most commercially important species in Western Europe. They are caught in lobster or crab pots on the seafloor. These crabs are at relatively healthy stock levels around Cornwall as the minimum landing size within Cornwall’s 6-mile limit tends to be higher. As they are caught in pots there is a low impact on the environment and since females can produce 3 million eggs every year they are considered at a low vulnerability to overfishing!