Populations of brown crab are distributed all around Scotland’s coasts. Night-time foragers, Brown crabs are caught by creels and are one of the big mainstays of our inshore fisheries. Crabs can grow to over six kilos in weight and live to around 25-30 years. About one third of the weight of a crab is edible and the white and brown meat is variously used in soups, pates and delicious simply dressed.
Amazingly the Scottish fleet catches more brown crab by weight than fish species like hake or whiting, averaging around 11,000 tonnes per year. The vast majority is landed to Scotland, with big catches going to harbours such as Brora, Gardenstown, Scrabster and Ullapool. Orkney sustains the country’s biggest Brown crab fishery with sizeable landings at Holm, Stromness and Kirkwall.
One of the good things about the crab fishery, is that unlike much of the rest of our seafood, it is landed all around the mainland and islands and is not concentrated to big ports. Much is caught using passive fishing gear by small-scale fishermen who are integral within their local economy and rural communities. Recently, a large amount of brown crab was exported abroad, with a big market in China, but the impacts of trade restrictions and Covid-19 may yet force the fishery to adapt its approach.
In terms of sustainability, the fishery is currently not optimally managed because there are no overall limits on the amount anyone can catch. There are few effort restrictions and unfortunately stock assessments estimate that brown crab has been overfished in recent years. If you’re picking yourself a crab, make sure it meets Minimum Landing Size restrictions – generally 150mm carapace width. The MCS Good Fish Guide rates them between 2-3 for Scottish fisheries.
This blog is part of our ‘Fish Local’ series, to help inform how you can buy locally-landed and sustainable seafood.
Mapped data courtesy of MMO and made available under OGL. Catch data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings per ICES rectangle. Landings data – 2018 UK Vessel Landings to Scottish Ports. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-sea-fisheries-annual-statistics-report-2018.
Fish images above courtesy of illustrations from The Natural History of British Fishes (1802) by Edward Donovan (1768-1837), digitally enhanced by rawpixel.com and adapted by Open Seas