By John Burton
RED BANK – Local waters are teeming with crabs this summer as enthusiasts are throwing in their nets and bringing up crustaceans that are large in number and size.
“It’s been one of the best years for crabbing and I’ve lived in this area my whole life,” Max Berry said.
Berry is in a position to know. As the owner and operator of Pride fishing and tackle shop, 111 East Front St., he is available to offer advice along with bait and equipment. This year has been a banner year for those looking to collect a few crabs for dinner, according to Berry.
The reason for the large number of available catches and the larger than usual individual crabs being caught in the area? “I think it is the mild winter,” Berry said.
The warm weather has led to warm water temperatures during what should have been the cold weather months.
“They bury in the mud when it gets cold,” and usually go into “a trance-like state” to spend the winter months, Berry said. Last winter, which was marked by temperate temperatures and warm waters, that didn’t necessarily happen.
“Just like you and I, if food is plentiful, they’ll eat as much as they can,” Berry said. That means they grow bigger and, because they aren’t following their usual state of winter hibernation, they’re multiplying, and with the warmer temperatures more have survived.
Gef Flimlin, a professor and marine extension agent for Rutgers University Cooperative Extension in Ocean County, agreed with Berry.
In a usual winter as much as 70 percent of crab population doesn’t make it through the cold months. “I would think since the winter was fairly mild that a larger percentage of them survived,” he said. What they like to eat also survived, leading to larger crabs.
A group of people at Marine Park on Wharf Avenue on Monday, Aug. 20, had their nets in the Navesink River and were ready to attest to what is shaping up to be a bumper crop of crabs this year, for whatever the reason.
“They say it is the best year, I hear,” said James Kovach, a Long Branch resident who had collected about a dozen of the crustaceans during a three-hour period. “We were here on Saturday and caught about 30 … It’s a good year.”
The sizes of the crabs Berry has been seeing have surprised him, too. To be a “keeper,” a crab has to measure more than 4.5 inches across – anything smaller is supposed to be thrown back, he said. This year, he’s seen some crabs as big as 8 inches.
Berry predicts crabbers will see “bigger ones going into October,” usually the tail end of the crabbing season.
“I thought I caught the biggest one ever,” said Judy Shuta, who traveled from Clark to crab in the Navesink. She said she recently caught one that measured 7¾ inches. When she looked online, however, she found the largest crab caught in New Jersey was 8¼ inches. “I never thought they came so big in New Jersey.” She froze the crab for posterity.
“We usually sit here for about 6 or 6 1/2 hours and usually catch about two dozen,” she said. “And that’s enough for us.”
The day’s activity isn’t just about the sport; it’s also about eating. “I boil them in very spicy water,” Shuta said, adding, if her family members want to eat them, they have to help clean them.
“This is my dinner tonight,” said Kovach of Long Branch, who cooks them in beer or white wine and sometimes puts them in tomato sauce. “Over linguini they’re awesome.”
“It’s a lot of work for a little piece of meat,” with the cleaning, cooking, and digging the meat out of the shells, said Middletown resident Mike Weinbel, who was at the park with his 8-year-old son and his son’s friend. “But it’s good.”
Marine Park and the Fair Haven public dock area offer some of the area’s best locations for crabbing in the river, Berry tells his customers. He, too, enjoys taking his kids out for a day of crabbing. “It’s just a good, affordable thing a family can do,” he said.
The cost, according to Berry, includes a couple of relatively inexpensive traps, ranging in price from $9.95 to $21.95, and some bait. Many people stop by a supermarket for raw chicken, though Berry recommends bunker, a type of fish.
“Basically, just get a couple of hand lines, a net, a little bit of bait, and give it a try,” he said. “For me it’s about seeing the look on my daughter’s face bringing in a monster crab.”
“We came almost every week last year,” said Rebecca Lacasse of Old Bridge, because her kids “love it.”
“I like the feeling when you see the crab in the cage,” said Lacasse’s 11-year-old son.