Crab Season is Here!
For decades, Jonah crab was one of New England's best kept secrets. Jonah crab was essentially considered a bycatch; local shops along the coast would buy crab, usually picked by local “pickers” in their homes, and sell it in small 8 oz containers. By and large it was a cottage industry, in some ways not dissimilar to Maine’s New Shell lobster which was historically not shipped out of state until shipping technology improved enough for the softer shelled (and many Mainers will tell you, sweeter and better tasting) lobsters could be shipped effectively.
If you grew up in Maine, or spent your summers along the coast, crab meat was a regular treat, something fishermen brought home and served, or something your mother might buy from the local general store and make into a salad or a roll. Unlike Alaskan Dungeness crab, it was a largely home-spun operation, providing incidental income to some fishermen and home-based “pickers”.
As the secret about this delectable product got out, fishermen increasingly began fishing for it not as a bycatch but as the catch. While this type of shift can lead to overfishing, a unique collaboration of fishermen, buyers, business leaders, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute got together on a fishery improvement project to create a management plan to ensure the fishery remained sustainable, adding minimum catch size (4.75 inches carapace width), prohibition on catching egg bearing females and a host of other regulations. These regulations were first implemented in state waters, and are now implemented in federal waters as well. Our own Ben McKinney and Bryan Holden played a role in ensuring the fishery would stay protected. As a regulated and managed fishery, Jonah crab is now a legitimate economic driver for New England coastal economies.
Jonah crab meat, in addition to being sustainable, is incredibly diverse in its culinary applications. Crab dips, crab rolls, sweet corn and crab chowder are just a few ways this sweet and delectable meat can be prepared. And, while we won’t name names, there are a few of us here at Luke’s who will take a crab roll over a lobster roll all day long and even on Sundays. :)