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Tips on looking after crabs

PUBLISHED: 14:55 11 June 2008 | UPDATED: 10:22 07 July 2010

Being stuck in a bucket is just part of life for a crab living at a popular holiday resort like Wells.

There you are scuttling about on the sea or river bed looking for a morsel to munch when - whoosh - suddenly you are being reeled upwards and dropped into a plastic pail with a gang of cellmates who met the same fate.

Being stuck in a bucket is just part of life for a crab living at a popular holiday resort like Wells.

There you are scuttling about on the sea or river bed looking for a morsel to munch when - whoosh - suddenly you are being reeled upwards and dropped into a plastic pail with a gang of cellmates who met the same fate.

And on Friday in Wells the crab's jailers will have a leaflet to tell them how to look after their catch.

For with overcrowding, compounded by the wrong kind of water and overexposure to the sun a creature caught for a bit of holiday fun could end up being anything from a little bit stressed out and, well, crabby, to… stone dead.

The main message to those carefree families dangling lines into the water and hauling up denizens of the deep is “don't overcrowd your crabs.”

Handy hints include a 10-crab recommended maximum in the bucket, with earlier catches thrown back to make room.

Water should be from the sea, not the tap, to keep up the right levels of salt, and should be changed hourly to ensure there is enough oxygen. Buckets should be kept out of direct sunlight, as unlike the shore pools, they contain no rocks for crabs to shelter under.

The first of 10,000 leaflets will be handed out for the first time on Friday the 13th, which should turn out to be a lucky day for the captured crustaceans - which can suffocate, or suffer stress and injury if they are mistreated.

It results from work done by Cambridge University zoology students visiting the harbour last year during a long-standing link between the young scientists and the north Norfolk Coast.

Graduate Will Pearse said crab stocks were healthy, but there were concerns with the way they were treated by some people catching them for fun, but not understanding about their captives' needs.

“We are not saying people shouldn't go crabbing, which is fun. But we want people to learn about crabs - which are sometimes coming to harm because of ignorance.

“If you are going to spend the day with something that is naturally beautiful, then show it some respect,” said Mr Pearse.

The biggest problem was people putting too many crabs into buckets - resulting in some at the bottom asphyxiating through lack of oxygen in the water, and males damaging each other in fights.

“In the sea males grapple with each other and the weaker one retreats. They cannot run away in a small bucket and keep fighting, leading to limbs being torn off, or shed as a defence mechanism.”

Long-standing crab fisherman John Davies said the leaflet idea was well-meaning but he felt the small green and red shore crabs hauled in by holidaymakers were far more resilient than the larger orange edible ones seen on fishmongers' slabs.

“Caring for the crabs is a good message to send out, but this could be a little bit over the top.

“Shore crabs are pretty indestructible. I have seen them live in the bottom of fishing boats for ages.

“And I think most children look after them well. Youngsters get hours of fun out of it. Even the crabs, who probably go up and down several times a day, benefit - from the extra food from bait such as bacon and whelks.”

On Friday Mr Pearse will be back in Wells giving the leaflets to shops selling crab fishing gear, so they can be passed on to tourists about to tackle the time-honoured holiday pastime enjoyed by generations of trippers, and endured by generations of crabs.

The £200 cost has been covered the Norfolk Coast Partnership and the Wells Field Study Centre - and will contain information about crabs as well as the crab-lining advice.

Wells is the only area getting them at the moment, but talks are under way about spreading the leaflets farther afield to other popular crabbing places such as Cromer pier.

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