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Freediving for your food – Part Two – Spider Crabs

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2: The Spider Crab (Maja squinado)



The Spider Crab is an awesome Crab. It may be ugly as sin, in fact some people are little scared of them…. but damn it if they ain’t delicious! Generally very little brown meat, but those long legs are full of white meat. The meat itself is different from that of the brown crab, its sweeter and not as strong, more similar in taste to a lobster. Some of these get huge, the big Japanese versions have been known to grow as big as a small car. Personally my biggest catch is one about the size of a small dog. Spider crabs do look very much like their namesake with long legs and a rounded body. They are also covered in spines and are always a red/orange colour.


Finding one…


If you are in the water at the right time of year and in the right spot these are literally impossible NOT to find. They grab on to any area of rocky reef and tend to be out in the open, although often under a carpet of kelp. Spring and early summer will see the first few coming in, and by mid-summer the big males will join the smaller females. The colouration and sheer size of some spider crabs make them easier to find. Sometimes you will find a huge concentration of animals, potentially covering a wide area in a sea of claws and lanky legs….. seriously…. its quite a sight!


The red colour tends to jump out of our reef beds, being surrounded by brown and dark green. On a still day keep your eye out for kelp that is moving ‘out of place’ , this is probably due to a Spider crab underneath a frond. During mating season you will sometimes find two crabs in a … ah hem… compromising situation. The male will be the big one on top. I never have the heart to separate them and take one for dinner. It also seems a bit irresponsible interrupting the reproductive process from a sustainability point of view.

You are looking for the males, as they have the biggest claws, with the females having very little meat in them. When you put a female and male spider crab side by side the differences are huge. Along side the big claws, the males are also lacking the egg carrying pouch on the underside.


Grabbing one…


These are very easy to pick up despite their ferocious appearance. Simply come at it from above, grab it by the body and quickly tip it upside-down and tap it on its back. For defensive reasons 90% of them will then curl their legs in to their body and will soon resemble a spiny basket ball. Some will be more pro-active in their defense and with those just swim hard to the surface with them still upside-down, this will keep their legs spread and immobile giving you plenty of time to then stash them away in a bag. All in all, they are a REALLY easy catch.


Cooking One…


The first thing to note with spider crabs is that they don’t keep well out of the water. Unlike lobsters and crabs they cannot be kept in the cool, alive, for cooking later. They will die pretty quickly if you try to keep them. Best thing to do if you are not planning on eating them straight away is to cook them and then keep the cooked meat till you need it. Cooking them and killing them is the same as with the brown crab, although the legs do better on the BBQ in my opinion.

To kill them humanely, flip them on to their backs to expose the triangular flap on the abdomen. Gently pull this aside and expose the little hole. You need to thrust a strong knife in to this . Move it towards the eyes once in to the body. The crab will die as you push the knife in, moving it forwards is really just a belt and braces approach, but id rather it didnt suffer at all.


24 Responses

    1. No worries! Best way imo is to BBQ whole until the main shell body can easily come loose, then remove it (discard the brown meat, its barely worth it) and break the legs from the body. Prepare a butter based garlic, Samphire or chili ‘drizzle/marinade’ and spread it on the now exposed ‘chest/body’ area. BBQ the legs and chest until you see some fizzing and popping of cooked juices coming out of the joints, then enjoy with the rest of the marinade and a cool beer!

  1. Nice one! thanks, have managed to find a willing fishmonger who can get me a couple. I don’t understand why they are so hard to get hold of, and why so many are sent to the continent when we should be enjoying them here.
    Maybe I should take up free diving too…live in devon so have lots of spots, but not as fit as I used to be.

  2. I have been spearfishing for a little while now (not long at all really) and have been interested in catching and killing my own spider crab, it really is strange how little there is online about “humanely” killing them. I saw a video about a year ago where they just hit the spider crabs first three segments of it’s cephalothorax on a square dge so it literally pealed in two but can’t seem to find anything about this again. Thanks for your advice I will give this a try now as I have just caught tomorrow supper. 😀

    1. Glad you found it useful. Sometimes I like to do a double tap kill. 1st through the hole in the abdomen as described and then immediately through the mouth… both driving to the back of the shell. The first one is 99% guaranteed to kill but the 2nd makes sure of it 100%. Loads of spiders this season… so happy hunting!

      1. Hi guys, its great to find a post that is recent. Can/will anybody recomend any sites to find spiders in Newquay, suitable for a very early novice to free diving? what sort of depth would be required to reach them. i will be down there in about 4 weeks. Thanks

        1. Hi Matt, The best places for spider crabs in Newquay are off the two main headlands… Towan and Pentire. Go as far to the points as you feel comfortable at low tide and you will be within 8m of depth but still able to access the big males that you will be looking for. Assuming you have a dive flag you might be willing to dive in between Pentire Headland and Goose rock where at this time of year there will be a a lot of crustaceans, although be really careful with tides, rips and waves! Same warning can be said for Towan, as the rip heading out to sea can be literally overwhelming as both Newquay bay and Fistral beach drain off this point, so only dive at absolute low. Good luck!

          1. Hi Ian, thanks for the info i will certainly give it look and hopefully try a dive. Is this a popular place to dive, am i likely for find others doing the same? only ask as i will most likely be diving alone, and would feel more confident at a more popular site.

          2. Hi Matt. The safest and most visited area would be ‘The Gazzle’, on the northern edge of Towan headland. Lots of coasteering groups etc etc. Its well protected and doesnt have any strong currents. Keep an eye out for anglers though. We do do half day spearfishing courses which may help you find your feet a bit.

  3. Hi, got into spearfishing last year through a friend and we quite by accident ended up coming across a good number a spider crab, back in the same area this year and was looking for a tip on a good spot. I’m in South Sands, Salcombe but willing to travel a bit. Cheers.

    1. Hi Dom.
      As a general rule, spider crabs are found on rocky reefs. So look for headlands and outcrops in your area, ideally in areas where the water is quite deep around the reef, as they come from deep water in order to mate in the relative shallows of the reef. As for specific locations, ill be honest in that I don’t know any good spots near Salcombe for Spiders.
      If you head to Cornwall there are lots of great spots. In fact the North coast headlands are the best places I have found for spider crabs. Newquay has a headland called Pentire, off this is an island called the goose. In between the headland and the island is a patch which normally has hundreds of spiders.
      Happy hunting.

  4. Plenty of good spots in south Devon. Have just arrived home (Southampton)after a week in Kingsbridge area
    Forget the estuary’s. I was Lure fishing but due to fantastic weather… no luck!!!
    But down at Burge Island they were all talking about diving for spider crabs. I listened as I was eager for
    something new. Then a day later talking to the window cleaner of our cottage, he mentioned that he also goes snorkelling for spider crabs at Thulestone ( near Salcombe) I hope that is of some use. I am now hooked on the idea of this free diving and also for food ( no by catch – just take only what you need, its the way forward?)
    What you put into the local economy with your stay etc is far more than a commercial boat tearing up the sea,
    chucking most back dead! and the rest sold to France/Spain etc at silly cheap prices.

    I now have to get fit and learn this new sport, anybody know the nearest to hampshire

  5. Hi there!

    I was looking for Spidercrabs but didnt find any… In which depth are u likely to find them? Anyone knows that ?

  6. Hi. This is great info.
    I’m going to St. Brides Bay at the end of May
    Can anyone suggest the best area in the bay for spider crabs and will there be a few around at that time of year.?


    1. Im not familiar with the area unfortunately. Aim for the headlands and anywhere deep water meets the land and you should do ok. Good luck!

  7. Hey. Great post, thanks for the info. I got into spearing last year and had my first spider crab yesterday just north of Newquay. I just boiled mine (after killing it) but think next time I’ll give the BBQ a try! Thanks.

  8. you should eat the brown meat. Its not much but i have found is after boiling you place them upside down to cool if you then separate the top and bottom you get a superb brown stock which makes a great fish soup or can flavour paella etc etc

  9. Hi. I’m based around St Mawes and am planning on doing some diving for Spider Crab and maybe a few lobster in the surrounding area in early July. Does anyone know of any spots around the Falmouth/St Anthony’s Head area?
    Many thanks.

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