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Red Crab Debuts at Hampton Processors

June 28, 2013
Atlantic red crab.

Chesapeake Bay blue crab next to deep sea Atlantic red crab. ©Stephanie Chavez/VASG

By Janet Krenn

A new crab came to Hampton on June 26—just in time for the 4th of July.

Harvested from deep waters off the coast of North Carolina, the Atlantic red crab was dropped off at L.D. Amory and Co. Inc, and then moved a few hundred feet to Graham & Rollins Inc. to be steamed and picked.

For these two seafood businesses, the influx comes at a good time. Blue crab harvests have been low so far this year.

“Having red crab will help meet the demand for the week of 4th of July,” says Joe Cardwell of Virginia Marine Products Board. “For crab, it’s probably the biggest demand of the year.”

Not to mention, L.D. Amory owner, Meade Amory says, “Once you try it, you can’t go wrong. It’s delicious.”

Getting red crab to Virginia has been 5 years in the making. Back in 2008, Jon Williams of Atlantic Red Crab Company worked with Virginia Sea Grant extension to investigate holding and processing red crab.

Extension partners at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and the Virginia Tech Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (VSAREC) worked with Williams to find ways to keep crabs alive and develop the appropriate cooking, packaging, and processing protocols.

Since then, Williams applied for and received Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainability and has been marketing red crab in the Boston area.

There’s still more to do, says Bob Fisher, VIMS extension staff affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant who worked on methods to hold and keep the crab alive once landed. The next step is developing better ways to maintain the health of live crab on-board the boat as well as throughout the live market distribution channel.

Red crab picking demonstration.

Workers demonstrated picking red crab. ©Stephanie Chavez/VASG

Splitting the catch between the picked meat and live crab markets is a good business strategy, says Dan Kauffman, a Virginia Sea Grant Extension partner at VSAREC. Kauffman, a Marketing Specialist, points to the golden crab fishery in Florida. By developing the live market for that crab, prices gradually improved from their initial low price of $1 per pound.

“To get there, you need infrastructure,” says Kauffman. “You need to know how to handle the crab on land, the salinity requirements, the water quality parameters.”

Today, Virginia seems happy just to have red crab in any form coming to Hampton. Dozens of journalists and political figures, including state officials and the Mayor of Hampton, turned up to watch the first crabs come off the boat and taste samples.

For Williams, who first began harvesting red crab in 1995, the warm welcome was promising: “I’ve been investing in this for 18 years. To get this kind of interest from people in the state is very exciting.”

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