Dungeness Crabs – How Dead Is Too Dead?

Dungeness crab (DFG photo)

Question: I have a couple of questions that I’m hoping you can answer. First, what is the best method for keeping Dungeness crab alive and in the best cooking condition for hours, or even three or four days? Secondly, when less than 50 percent of the crabs quit moving, are they still edible? If so, is there a time frame for this? Thanks in advance for any information. Many of us crab catchers who need these answers might now be wasting an unnecessary number of delectable Dungeness crabs. (Rangal Y., Millbrae, Calif.)

Answer: Ideally, it’s always safest to keep the crabs alive until you’re ready to put them directly into the cooking pot. To keep them alive for transport, the crabs should be kept cool, moist, covered with fresh seaweed, and then covered with a soaked burlap bag on top. You should be able to keep them alive overnight (and maybe longer) this way, but I wouldn’t push it. To keep them alive for several days, you’ll need a well-aerated saltwater tank, ideally with filtration. Without good aeration and filtration, low dissolved oxygen becomes an issue, and as the crabs urinate in the water (turns bluish), without filtration the meat will slowly spoil.

As far as how long the crabs will remain edible after dying, I wouldn’t wait longer than an hour or so to toss them into the boiling pot. Once crabs die, the meat starts to decompose if not cooked quickly. One reason is because when the crab dies, its mid-gut gland (the source of food digestion enzymes) is soon attacked and damaged by those same enzymes, and then the enzymes spread out into the muscle tissue, breaking it down into mush. Yuck!

Bottom line … Dungeness crab are one of California’s most delicious and popular seafoods, and they are always best enjoyed when kept alive until ready to drop into the cooking pot.

How to buy wildlife mounts to decorate a cabin?
Question: I have a friend who is building a lodge-type home in the mountains and wants to decorate his fireplace with the stuffed head of a deer or other antlered animal. I’m not sure he can legally buy animal mounts in California. If it’s not legal here, he wants to commission me to go to Montana or Arizona to find him a suitable trophy mount and purchase it for him. I don’t mind doing it for him as long as it’s legal. What is the law? (Don H.)

Answer: It is legal to go to states that allow such transactions so long as a declaration of entry for those mounts is made when you bring them back to California (Fish and Game Code, section 2353).

Wildlife mounts from wildlife found in the wild in California, however, can only be given to others – they cannot be bought, sold, bartered or traded (Fish and Game Code, section 3039). No money or compensation can be exchanged. There are no such issues with wild animals not found in the wild in California (such as caribou or moose) as long as they are not protected under other laws, such as the Endangered Species Act.

People often ask us what they can do with mounts they no longer want. We often suggest donating them to schools, stores or community service clubs (e.g. Rotary, Lions, Scouts). You might check with some of these organizations to see if they have any wildlife mounts they no longer need and might be interested in giving to you.

Abalone report card stats
Question: Since the introduction of the abalone report card, fishermen must now enter on the card the area where the abalone was taken. At the end of the season, these cards are mailed into the DFG. Can you tell me if there is a report available that would tell me the quantity of abalone that are taken from the different areas that are listed on the report card? (Larry P., Paradise, Calif.)

Answer: Yes, it is available on the Marine Region website at the following link: www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/pdfs/abcatch02-09.pdf

Can I use frozen trout for bait in San Francisco Bay?
Question: I want to use frozen trout for bait in San Francisco Bay. Would this be legal since the trout were originally caught from various locations in northern California? Would my possession limit of these fish on the boat be tied to where the fish were caught (the possession limit for the particular waters where taken) versus the local trout possession limit allowed where I am fishing? (Howard A.)

Answer: Trout may be used as bait in ocean waters. The possession limit for trout while in the Ocean Fishing District is three per person no matter where they are taken (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, sections 1.59 and 27.70.)

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

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