How do people catch crabs in pots?

A commercial crab fishermen may set and work hundreds of pots each day.

A commercial crab fishermen may set and work hundreds of pots each day.

August 2007

Crab “pots” are not pots that we associate with cooking. They are square, cage-like contraptions made of metal mesh and measure about 2 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 18 inches high. The mesh is often coated with colored plastic to help slow deterioration from sun exposure and immersion in water.

Crab pots are divided into two sections, upper and lower. A cylindrical bait basket sits in the middle of the lower section. The pot has funnel-like openings on each side to allow crabs to enter to get the bait, but make it tough for the crab to exit. Small holes, called cull rings, in the sides of the upper section allow smaller crabs to escape. Bait can be almost any type of meat – fish, chicken or meat carcasses.

The top of the pot has a latch so the pot can be opened and the crabs removed when the pot is pulled from the water. A rope and float are tied to the top of the pot and a weight is attached to the bottom to keep the pot on the sea floor.

A pot can be placed, or “set,” off a dock, or taken out by boat and dropped overboard. A name and/or boat registration number on the float identifies the owner.

To remove the catch, the crabber unhooks the latch on the top of the pot, turns the pot upside down and shakes the crabs into a container. The pot can then be re-baited and reset.

Pots must be set where they will be submerged at all times. Plenty of rope should be used with the float to allow for the tide’s rise and fall. Crabs die quickly, if the tide goes out and the pot is exposed to the sun.

Blue crabs tend to feed at dusk and dawn, so leaving pots out overnight usually catches more crabs. Pots should be checked at least once every 24 hours. If left untended too long, crabs in the pots will begin to cannibalize each other.

Crabs can be caught most of the year, except during cold months when they snuggle into muddy or sandy bottoms for the winter. The best time to catch large crabs is in fall.

All states have regulations governing the harvesting of crabs, and fines can be stiff. In North Carolina, the governing agency is the NC Division of Marine Fisheries Rules and regulations change, depending on season, location and species’ population.