North Carolina Sea Grant

September 17, 2009 | Barry Nash

north carolina fisheries

The Atlantic blue crab is common to all North Carolina coastal waters, but the largest populations tend to live in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Blue crabs are this state’s most valuable commercial fishery.  Over 33 million pounds of blue crabs – worth $28 million – were commercially harvested in 2008.

To grow, a blue crab must shed its shell and form a new one. As crabs shed, they emerge from their old shells with a very thin, soft shell which hardens after several days. Called “softshell” crabs, these delicacies are seasonally available to all crab lovers in late spring and summer. The shedding process is repeated up to 25 times during a crab’s life span, which seldom exceeds two to three years. When environmental conditions are favorable, large numbers of crabs can be produced from a relatively small spawning stock. Females can spawn twice in their life-cycle and release up to two million eggs at a time.

A mature male crab is called a “jimmy” and is easily recognized by the brilliant blue shading on his shell and claws. Female crabs are called “sooks” (adult) or “she-crabs” (immature) and can be distinguished by the rounded aprons on their underside and red tips on their claws. The “sponge crab” is a female that has an egg mass on her abdomen.


Contributed by Barry Nash

Information and illustrations from NC Division of Marine Fisheries

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