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Edible crab (Cancer pagurus)

19.03.2013 // Edible crab are found along the Norwegian coast from the Swedish border to Troms county, and an increasing by-catch of the species in gillnets indicates that the resource is spreading northwards.

The stock is supporting a growing fishery. Their spawning grounds are relatively sheltered sandy bottoms, while adult males, settling juveniles and nursery grounds are found in rocky areas exposed to the open sea. The main crab fishery takes place in shoal waters from the outer skerries, some 10-25 nautical miles from the coastline, to the fjords. In mid-Norway and Helgeland (63°– 67°N), the peak crab fishing season is from August to November. Some 75% of Norwegian landings of edible crab are from these regions, with nearly 90% of the landings going to processing factories. 

A century of crab fishery

Important regional crab fisheries extend south of mid-Norway, although on a smaller scale. In Rogaland (59°– 60°N), the fishing season is between April and November. There, coastal crabs have been fished for about 100 years and are a source of commerce for local live sale markets and industry. In Vesterålen (69°N), the crab fishery started on a small scale in 2001.

Crab landings have been around 5,000-6,000 tons annually since 2002, with a peak of almost 8,500 tons in 2007. Fluctuations in catches from one year to the next greatly influence the market situation. The mean first-hand price for edible crab for processing tends to be about NOK 9 per kg.

Few regulations in crab fishery

There has been no systematic description of population structure or abundance of edible crab in Norwegian waters other than for catch landings. Regulations are based on the defined seasons for industrial landings, a ban on the landing of soft-shelled and oviparous crabs and a minimum legal size. The present minimum legal size is 13 cm carapace width in areas north of 60°N. In recent years the industry has practiced a higher minimum size in response to market demand. The fishery in south-eastern Norway has no seasonal regulation and a minimum legal size of 11 cm carapace width.

Data registration for the edible crab fishery dates back to 2001. Catch data and biological information such as size, sex and egg clutches have been sampled in parts of Rogaland, mid-Norway, Nordland and Vesterålen. Collected data have contributed to surveillance and increased understanding of the stock situation. In general, there is good recruitment to the spawning stock in all areas, probably due to the minimum legal crab size in the fishery.

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