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  • Writer's pictureThe Crab Place

Blue Crab Harvesting Methods: Crab Potting, Scraping, and Trot Lining

The world of Blue Crab harvesting is as diverse and fascinating as the crabs themselves. There are many techniques used to catch these crabs, each suited to different environments and stages of the crabs' life cycle, and each offering different levels of yield and efficiency. Some of the most popular methods include crab potting, scraping, and trot lining. Each of these methods has its own special processes, benefits, and challenges. Today, we'll dive into the details of each one!


Crab Potting Harvesting

Man harvesting crabs using a crab pot

Crab potting is perhaps the most widely recognized method of blue crab harvesting. This technique involves the use of wire mesh traps, known as pots, which are baited and placed on the bottom of estuaries, bays, or near shorelines (like Crisfield, MD) where blue crabs are known to frequent.


How It Works

Equipment: Crab pots are typically constructed from galvanized or vinyl-coated wire mesh. They are baited with fish, chicken necks, or other meat scraps that attract crabs.

Deployment: Pots are lowered to the seafloor and left for a period, usually overnight, allowing crabs to enter the trap in search of food.

Retrieval: The pots are then hauled up, and the crabs are harvested. The design of the pot ensures that legally-sized crabs can enter but cannot escape.

Grading: After crabs are taken out of the pot, they are then set into bushel baskets

Pros and Cons


Efficiency: Capable of capturing a large number of crabs with minimal labor.

Selectivity: Pots can be designed to reduce bycatch and limit the capture of undersized crabs through escape rings.


Cost: Initial investment in pots can be high and difficult for beginner crabbers.

Maintenance: Regular checking and maintenance are required to prevent loss and damage.



Waterman harvesting crabs using scaling method

Scraping is a method primarily used to harvest soft-shell blue crabs, which have recently molted and have not yet hardened their new shells. This technique involves dragging a scraping device along the bottom of shallow waters.


How It Works

Equipment: The scraper is a metal frame with an attached mesh bag, designed to be dragged along the seafloor.

Deployment: Scraping is conducted from a boat, with the device being dragged along the bottom in shallow waters, typically around marshes and seagrass beds where molting crabs are likely to be found.

Retrieval: The contents of the mesh bag are emptied periodically to collect the crabs.

Grading: Once the crabs are pulled up, they are then graded based on how far along they are in their molt cycle. This can be told by a faint coloring in their backfin, which gives insight as to how far along they are in the process.

Pros And Cons


Targeted Harvest: Ideal for harvesting soft-shell crabs, which are a delicacy.

Low Cost: Requires minimal investment in equipment.


Labor Intensive: Requires manual effort and is less efficient in terms of quantity harvested compared to potting.

Environmental Impact: Can disturb seagrass beds and other habitats.



Trot Lining

Trot lining is an age-old technique favored for its simplicity and effectiveness in catching blue crabs. It involves a long line with multiple baited hooks or snoods spaced along its length.

Diagram of trot lining
Trot lining diagram courtesy of Fish Talk Mag

How It Works

Equipment: A trot line consists of a long, heavy line (the main line) with shorter lines (snoods) attached at intervals, each baited with chicken necks or other bait.

Deployment: The trot line is stretched between two anchors or floats on the water’s surface, allowing the baited snoods to dangle into the water.

Retrieval: The line is slowly pulled up, and as it comes to the surface, crabs clinging to the bait are scooped up with a dip net.

Pros and Cons


Simplicity: Requires basic equipment and is easy to set up and use.

Selective Harvesting: Allows for the immediate release of undersized crabs and non-target species.


Time-Consuming: Tending to a trot line can be slow and labor-intensive.

Variable Yield: The catch can be inconsistent, depending on crab abundance and environmental conditions.


Bonus Method: Chicken Necking

Maryland blue crab caught in a net

Chicken necking is a family fun method of catching crabs that can be enjoyed and performed by anyone! Having the same fundamentals as trot lining, the idea is attaching bait to a line and sinking it in the water. The main difference, however, is you drop the line and receive your prize by hand, negating the necessity for equipment beyond a net.

How It Works

Equipment: With this method, you only need fishing line, raw chicken, and a dipping net.

Deployment: The chicken is tied or hooked into the fishing line and lowered into the water by hand near a water structure like a dock or pier.

Retrieval: Like trot lining, the line is slowly pulled up, and as it comes to the surface, crabs clinging to the bait are scooped up with a dip net.

Pros and Cons


Simplicity: Requires nothing but chicken and fishing line with no prior experience in crabbing to understand.

Family Friendliness: This method is one used by visitors and locals alike to spend quality time with friends and family while catching a delicious prize.

Price: With this method only requiring fishing line and chicken, the accessibility is very attainable.


Time-Consuming: This method can at times be very slow and pain staking due to the lack of bait and area of capture.

Variable Yield: The catch can be inconsistent, depending on crab abundance and environmental conditions.



Steamed Maryland blue crab from The Crab Place

Each method of blue crab harvesting offers unique advantages and challenges. Crab potting is efficient and delivers a high-yield, but requires a significant investment and regular maintenance. Scraping is ideal for soft-shell crabs and is low-cost, but it is also labor-intensive and potentially disruptive to habitats. Trot lining is simple and selective but can be time-consuming and yield-variable. The choice of method depends on the specific goals, resources, and environmental considerations of the harvester. Understanding these differences helps appreciate the skill and effort involved in bringing blue crabs from the water to your plate.


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