Last Thursday, the 15th, was the first full moon in May and the annual big spring run of local soft crabs kicked off to a great start. Memorial Day weekend is a great time to enjoy soft shell crabs. Peeler runs, when crabs begin molting, are coming on strong now in the Core, Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds of North Carolina. Almost simultaneously, as if they received the call from Carolina, the crabs in the Northern Neck of Virginia (James, York, Rappahannock, & Piankatank Rivers) have begun their run.
The Eastern shore of Virginia is starting to catch lots of peelers and Maryland creeks and rivers will most likely pick up the week after Memorial Day, meaning that there could be a glut of local soft shell crabs for the next few weeks. The recent 80 to 90 degree days have finally warmed the shallow waters enough to spur the crabs to awaken from their winter slumber. The crabs were "fat" when they buried in the mud last November and now they must shed their shells (exoskeleton) in order to grow. They increase their size roughly 30% each time they molt. It is one of the true wonders of nature to watch. Imagine being reborn, casting your skin aside and re-defining yourself physically. Chitin is the protein responsible for hardening the crab shell to the almost inedible state in which we are accustomed to cracking with hungry mallets and tacky bibs during the summer months. The process only takes about 6 hours, making the window to harvest the perfect textured soft crab out of the water very short.
This run will last only about three weeks, so don't delay, it may be the biggest glut of the season for soft shell crabs. This will be the time when quality is high and prices are low, and unfortunately by the 10th of June it will be over. Soft shell crabs will still be available, but prices will rebound as the volume drops. The crab population is predicted to be less than last year, so don't miss out on a sure bet over the next three weeks.