By Lauren Wanko
The fishing vessel, Eastern Welder, glides across the water. The Manhattan skyline towers in the distance. The crew returns from a long day of crabbing. On the Belford Seafood Co-op dock about 20 bushels are unloaded full of blue crabs.
“This time of year is the best time of year to eat crabs,” said Captain Louis Egnatovich.
“Because they’re like a bear, they’re stuffing themselves for hibernation during the winter. So, when you get crabs out of here in the winter time they’re solid, full of meat.”
Belford Seafood Co-op General Manager Joseph Branin says during the winter months the crabs typically bury themselves in the mud.
“The water gets cold and it will kind of like shock the crabs and they’ll bed down,” explained Branin.
Fishermen use dredges to catch the crabs. The crabs are washed down on deck and already loaded into bushels by the time the boat reaches the dock.
Branin said, “The dredge is similar to a rake. It’s got teeth, it’s anywhere between six and 10 feet wide and it’s got teeth on it that drag along the bottom. Then, there’s a poly-netting behind it to catch the crabs.”
The season starts Dec. 1. Fishermen here search for crabs mostly in the Raritan Bay and near the Statue of Liberty.
“We probably do four to 500 bushels a day, the first three to four weeks. It’s a lot of money. It keeps a lot of families here,” said David Tauro, dock manager at Belford Seafood Co-op.
Egnatovich uses two dredges to collect the crabs.
He said, “The crabs don’t bury themselves too deep. They just cover themselves lightly. So when the teeth go up underneath them it just scouts them in the bag on the back of the dredge.”
“If it gets real cold they’ll bed down in the mud and you have to dredge them out. Most of the time, winters like we’ve been having, they don’t bed down. You’re chasing them all around the bottom. With warmer weather they just keep moving. You’ll catch them here today and tomorrow they’re not there. They’re over at another spot,” said Branin.
National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration indicates the blue crab generated more than $8 million for New Jersey fishermen in 2015.
The Belford Seafood Co-op sells the crabs here in the fish market to locals and wholesalers too, who typically buy anywhere from 10 to 100 bushels at a time says Branin. The bushel price depends on the season, but it usually ranges anywhere between $60 and $100. Males are more money because they’re bigger, but females are just as important to the industry here in Belford.
“The female crabs, the Asian market love them because of the eggs. I’m not certain, I know you’re going to ask me if I ever tried them, no I haven’t, no not yet,” said Tauro.
These fishermen will continue crabbing until March 31.