above: THE EMPTY CRAB SHELLS AFTER THEY'VE SLOUGHED
above: A BOX OF BAY "WHALES"
In just a few days (April 1st) it will be soft shell crab season on the Chesapeake Bay. It's that time of year everyone waits for with bated breath. When it gets a little warmer in the Spring the local crabbers start their SOFT SHELL CRAB SEASON when the crabs shed their shell, become soft and get bigger. They actually come out of their old shell nearly 40% larger as a new soft crab and as tender & soft as a new born baby's butt.
Eastern Shore soft crabber, Andrea Jacquette, starts her season as soon as possible after the April 1st season's beginning. At first there are few molting crabs but as the weather warms up the number multiplies and stays pretty constant until the early fall when it closes for the season. Once the season is in full swing, Ms. Jacquette gets little sleep as she needs to remove the soft crab every 2 hours or the crab will harden or be eaten by the hard crab. That's 6 whole months worth of getting out of a warm bed and a sound sleep every 2 hours to check the soft crabs.
SOFT SHELL SIZES -- MEASURED FROM THE SHELL'S POINT TO POINT
3 ½" hotel size, is the smallest and in it's first year of life
4 ½" prime size
Last year a very rare occurrence happened when some soft shells were monsters. They were just over 10 incher's, slab size, and were sloughed out in the molt stage and became the biggest of the season.
Stages for hard shells to become soft shells are called by the crabbing professionals as GREEN PEELERS or ready to peel. A pro can look at the under side of the crab and on a finn and see a fuzz-furry area that is changing color. They start out as a green peeler, then the color changes to a black peeler, white, pink and finally red peeler before it becomes a "dead-ripe."
Their next stage is called a buster (as it's busting out of the shell) and within an hour or two it is a new SOFT SHELL CRAB. When it comes out of it's old shell it is about 40% bigger than it was previously in the old shell. At this stage of just coming out it is as soft as room temperature butter. If it's not taken out of the water it will become a paper shell (a very undesirable chewy and leathery-tuffish-membrane forms as the shell starts turning hard again) and the final soft crab term is when it's a SNOT! -- mmmmmmmmm a SNOT! -- Yup.
That means that it'snot soft anymore and s'not hard yet either -- LOL --