Several species of crabs were eaten by coastal Indigenous Peoples who had access to them [1, 2]. Northwest coast cultures including the Makah, Coast Salish, Squamish, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Haihais, Bella Bella (Hieltsuk), Oowekeeno (Hieltsuk) and Tlingit are reported to have gathered and consumed crabs. Huron also are reported to have consumed them. [3-18]. Kwakiutl tended to consume crabs only when other food sources were unavailable . Northwestern Alaskans had little access to shellfish; nonetheless they occasionally caught crabs from open channels through the ice . In the Kyuquot and Ahousaht regions, crabs were seldom consumed [21, 22]. In more recent times, it has been reported that crabs were still consumed by Nuxalk . The Nuxalk word for crab was k’inacw [24-26]. The Central and Northern Nootka called crabs hasåmts .
Crabs were harvested at different times of the year [2, 3, 27]. Even though they were available throughout the year in different concentrations along the shore, they were not usually harvested year-round [28, 29]. The Nootka are the only people said to collect crabs throughout the year . Some northwest coast cultures harvested crabs in winter; Northwestern Alaskans harvested in February and March [9, 20, 31]. Bering Strait cultures gathered crabs between January and March at Wales, Nome Unalakleet, and around Islands that were known to be prime crab locations . The Squamish gathered them on the beach at Burrard Inlet in summer . The Nuxalk went to nearby islets to find them .
Crabs were collected by women at ebb tide on beaches in shallow water [6, 14, 27, 33]. Men also caught crabs by spearing them from canoes in shallow water [10, 34, 35]. More recently, the Kwakiutl used traps as well . Crabs were normally carried back to their camps in cedar baskets, similar to the ones used for clams, with holes allowing water and sand to drain out . Northern cultures caught small crabs by sending a baited wire cage attached to a cord through a hole in the ice. The crabs entered the cage and were pulled up a short time later .
Crabs were cooked in similar ways to other beach food: roasted on a fire, steamed or boiled. Those with access to wire racks could cook them over fires otherwise they were usually stone boiled or steamed in pit [18, 36, 37]. The meat was ready when it no longer stuck to the shell . Crabs were always eaten fresh; they were not preserved . Crabs were also used as bait by the Wampanoag .
The dungeness crab was reported to have been collected and consumed by the Coast Salish, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island, people of Port Simpson (Tsimshian) and Southeast Alaskan cultures [36, 38-40]. The Ahousaht, Clayoquot and Kelsomat also used this beach food . Coast Salish found dungeness crab on Tl’úhus land and used it as an economic resource . The people of Port Simpson harvested crabs all year long excluding the breeding season, during which time their shells were soft . The Mahousat named crabs, hasaamats, after the word for crawling, hasaa. The Coast Salish called them Xíxyik’, but this word was used for all crabs . They were known to the people of Port Simpson as galmoos .
Dungeness crabs were found on sandy beaches where there was a significant amount of eelgrass on the ocean floor [36, 38]. Normally caught by men, a spear was used to pierce the crab shell while they waded through the water or sat in canoes during low tide. Often the same instrument to collect sea urchins or a single pointed spear was used [39, 41]. The area right behind the eyes was hit to daze the crab . The Coast Salish used a special spear, kí7kex, made of Douglas fir or red cedar wood. Two iron spikes were attached with rope to the end of the post, between which the crab was fixed when speared . Men frequently wore cedar-bark visors to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare in order to identify the crabs in the water below [39, 41].
Traditionally, Dungeness crabs were steamed in shallow pits; in later years, pots were used . Coast Salish did not eat crabs with sagging legs, known as líkw’ithut, since the meat was thought to be spongy .
Atlantic horseshoe crabs were frequently used by the Wampanoag. They ate the eggs and the boiled leg meat. The shells were used to make instruments, needles, awls, spears and good luck charms. It is reported that by the 1950s, horseshoe crabs were no longer collected, possibly due to the introduction of other modern food sources and materials for instruments .
The Wampanoag are reported to have enjoyed the blue crab the most of all crabs, and to have consumed green crab and also used it as bait. The Wampanoag are also reported to have used fiddler crabs as bait , likely including the Atlantic marsh fiddler and the Atlantic sand fiddler.
The Wampanoag and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto are reported to have eaten Atlantic rock crabs and used them as bait. They were often found hiding in seaweed [35, 43].
Jonah crabs were consumed by the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Newfoundland in June .
Central Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) women and Coast Salish are reported to have collected and consumed graceful kelp crabs, known as kaxkayuc. Northern Nootka, however, did not eat this type of crab. Graceful kelp crabs were generally found in seaweed [21, 36].
Coast Salish are reported to have eaten red rock crabs and used them as bait .
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Crabs include crustacean crabs, related to other decapods (lobsters and shrimps), but also include other unrelated crab-like species, such as horseshoe crabs. In North America, crustacean crabs are represented by the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister), occurring along the Pacific coast, and seven other native species and one introduced European species.
Crustaceans crabs differ mainly from other decapods by having a much reduced abdomen that is permanently flexed under their cephalothorax giving them a quite rounded shape. This brings their center of gravity directly over their legs, which makes them efficient and rapid walkers, especially using sideways gait .
Some crustacean crabs live in the deep sea, while others live in the intertidal zone, often close to the shore. Most crabs walk along the sea bottom scavenging for dead animal matter and escape predators by burrowing into bottom sediments. Their reproduction involves copulation with the male transferring sperm to the female for storage. Eggs are fertilized as they are laid and are usually carried beneath the abdomen of the female until they hatch as planktonic larvae .
The Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) occurs along the North American Pacific coast, from Alaska to California. They are reddish brown and can grow to over 20 cm wide, being the largest crab species found along the Pacific coast. They are most often found walking along sandy bottom below the tidal mark, but also in eel grass beds at low tides .
In North America, other species of crustacean crabs include the introduced European green crab (Carcinus maenas) , occurring along both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and many native species like the graceful kelp crab (Pugettia gracilis) and the red rock crab (Cancer productus) , occurring along the Pacific coast, and like the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) , the Atlantic marsh fiddler (Uca pugnax) , the Atlantic sand fiddler (U. pugilator) , the Atlantic rock crab (Cancer irroratus) , and the Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) , occurring along the Atlantic coast.
Other crab-like species in North America include the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus), occurring along the Atlantic coast of USA. The Atlantic horseshoe crab is a primitive species that has remained unchanged for the last 200 million years. They are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crustacean crabs. Like all crabs, they are covered by a tough carapace, but unlike other crabs, they have a two-part body, with a large head region, taking the shape of a horseshoe, and a smaller abdominal region, ending with a long sword-like tail .
1. Rainbow PS: "Crabs, Lobsters, Shrimps, and Allies". In: The Encyclopedia of Underwater Life. Edited by Dawes ACJ: Oxford University Press; 2007.
2. "Cancer magister Dana, 1852." [http://eol.org/pages/328221/details]
3. "Carcinus maenas Linnaeus, 1758." [http://eol.org/pages/128502]
4. "Pugettia gracilis Dana, 1851." [http://eol.org/pages/999294]
5. "Cancer productus Randall, 1840." [http://eol.org/pages/317369]
6. "Callinectes sapidus Rathbun, 1886." [http://eol.org/pages/312939]
7. "Uca (Munica) pugnax Smith, 1870." [http://eol.org/pages/312786]
8. "Uca (Leptuca) pugilator Bosc, 1802." [http://eol.org/pages/347724]
9. "Cancer irroratus Say, 1817." [http://eol.org/pages/1021309]
10. "Cancer borealis Stimpson, 1859." [http://eol.org/pages/342191]
11. "Limulus polyphemus" [http://eol.org/pages/393278/details]