Eddie Willis (EW) a soft crab harvester and fish dealer talks to Pam Morris (PM)
PM: Where do you live and how long have you been a commercial fisherman?
EW: I’m a fourth generation commercial fisherman from Harkers Island and have been fishing all of my life.
PM: What do you do with the crabs after you land them? How do you shed them?
EW: We remove them from our crab pots and dump them into a cull box. Shedding tanks are 4’ x 8’ plywood boxes that are 10 to 12 inches deep and have salt water circulating in them. Crabs that are close to shedding are placed in one tank and the crabs that will shed in three to four days are placed in another tank. That reduces both time in handling and crab mortality.
PM: How do you know which stage of molt the crabs are in?
EW: They show a line, a separation in their back paddle fin. As it progresses, it starts out as fine black line that separates a little every day. Between the line and the actual fin, it starts filling in with a light pink color that darkens every day until it becomes red. At that point, we know the crab is ready to shed its shell. Within several hours or half a day, the crab will crack and back out of its shell. When a blue crab crawls out of its shell, it is known as a “Buster.” That is when the crab is the softest. We leave them in the shedder tanks for several hours so the wrinkles will smooth out and firm up. Soft shell crabs will keep for a week at 45-47 F.
PM: How important is the soft crab fishery to your business?
EW: It’s 50 percent of our income. We sell a variety of seafood in our market, but soft crabs are the backbone of our business.
Contributed by Pam Morris.