You might also want to try your luck at raising soft crabs. You will need to build a shedding tank. Take a 3 x 5 foot piece of plywood, or larger, and make sides high enough so crabs cannot climb out. Seal all the cracks and joints so it will hold water and let it dry.
Place it on a platform above the ground such as a couple of saw horses. You will now need a pump, similar to a small swimming pool pump, which can keep water circulating in the wet box. The water must be brine (salty) to match the crabs natural habitat. The water temperature should be kept over 70 degrees for best results.
Once filled ( about 3/4 ) with water, turn on the pump and place several crabs in the box. The crabs you use will be near the end of their molting cycle. Use a garden hose to keep the water level constant. Ask for advice of watermen on the best way to accomplish this.
Over the next several days watch them molt. Once they shed their hard shell, pick them up and freeze them for good soft shell crabs later on. If you don’t take the crabs out of the water soon after they shed the old shells, their new shells will start to harden. Removing them from water prevents this. Check the cooking page for details on preparing crabs for consumption.
How will you know when to place crabs in a shedding tank? There are signs that a crab is getting ready to shed its shell. Although it is very hard to spot, a crab will develop a small white outline around various shell parts indicating that it getting ready to shed. As time progresses, a pink mark will appear on the back fin within a week of molting. When the crab is almost ready to molt, about 48 hours away, red areas can be spotted. This will take some practice but you’ll get the hang of it eventually.
Soft shells can be frozen and eaten later. Simply clean them, fold the legs under the body and wrap them individually, then freeze them.
NOTE: There will be some water that spills on the ground and it will not be clean. The area under the shedding tank will be a breeding ground for bacteria. KEEP IT CLEAN! You can also travel to Deal and Smith islands, Crisfield and Jenkins Creek to see the shedding floats (bank floats) where you can watch the molting process first hand.
Can you raise blue crabs? Yes you can providing you have all the necessary equipment. Scientists have raised crabs from eggs to adults in under a year, a process which takes two years in the wild.
At the University of Maryland, for example, almost 7 million eggs were hatched but only one percent lived to be adults. The main problem was that the young crabs eat one another as they do in the wild when in the soft shell state. In close confines the crabs can easily find others to eat without searching. It will be a long time before “home grown” crabs can restock the bay.