“Crabbing Lingo”: A 20th Century Guide to Soft Shell Crabs

by Owen James Burke

800px-Boys_Crabbing_by_William_Tylee_Ranney,_1855

Image: Public Domain.

(This article in the Charleston paper, Dec 24, 1919, is about Maryland crabbing, and was published in hopes that Charleston could establish an equally successful industry. -OJB)

Crabbing Lingo

Many dealers catch “peelers,” that is, crabs that will shed shortly, and let them finish peeling in floats constructed for the purpose. These vary all the way from “rank peelers” and “busters” to “sweet, fat, and green” crabs, and “buckrams.” When a crab is getting ready to shed, a line appears on the next to the last joint of the back fins. If the line is white, the crab is thrown back, for it will die before shedding; if the line is pink, the crab is a peeler. It will shed in a few days. ‘A rank peeler’ will shed within a day. A crab of which the back shell has cracked loose from the apron is called “a buster,’ and will usually shed within an hour or two. The large male crabs are called “Jimmies” by the fishermen. A buckram is a soft crab become leathery and too hard to ship.

Peelers are placed within the shedding floats and culled out as they shed. They are left to harden a little for the crab would die if shipped when too soft. These soft crabs are packed on end in boxes with ice between and are covered with sea moss and special paper. Sea moss is also laid under them.