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Freediving for your food – Part One – Brown Crabs

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One of the great things about freediving in the ocean is it opens up a world of truly sustainable and delicious food gathering opportunities.


You dont have to be the consummate hunter to appreciate the benefits of collecting your own seafood whilst freediving. Whether its a lobster for a romantic meal with your partner, a rack of spider crabs for the bbq or a plate of muscles for a protein rich low fat dinner you can eat all of these things without paying a penny to in to the pockets of Mr Tesco or Uncle Sainsburys.

Spearfishing instantly comes to the forefront of your mind  when you consider getting food from the sea, but its not 100% nessesery to own a gun in order to gather food. Most of my seafood is collected, literally,  by hand. Spearfishing is obviously the only way to catch fast moving fish whilst freediving, but fish are only a small portion of the delectable treats that await us under the waves.

Lets look at a few different creatures that taste too glorious for their own good. Ill go in to where to find them, how to catch and handle them and in the most basic sense how to cook them.

Ill concentrate on a different animal on each post.

The first creature is going to be…..

1: The Brown Crab (Cancer pagurus)


This is the quintessential edible British crab. Any specimen of a decent size will offer up a good meal and is not only delicious but is packed full of ‘good for you’ vitamins and minerals. These are very heavy set creatures, with a thick and bone hard shell, a wide and low profile and two big and dangerous claws (a big one could have a finger off). They are, as the name suggests kinda brown, although the colour will vary somewhat from animal to animal.

Finding one…

Brown crabs are actually quite easy to find, but only when you know where to look. You will never find one if you simply scan the seabed from the surface, you really need to get down and personal with the rocks and ledges under the water line. Often found in relatively deep portions of the reef brown crabs will be found wedged under ledges and between cracks. It takes some time to get your eye in when looking for them, but after a bit of practice you should find one on every dive. If you are willing to dive at night you will could find them roaming the sea-bed looking for debris to munch on. One tip is to look for their eyes and mouth parts fluttering in the darkness.

Grabbing one…

Be careful now. You wouldn’t put you hand blindly in to a box filled with mouse traps would you? So when approaching a crab hole be slow, sneaky and use a tool. Crab hooks are easily made at home or purchased if you are so inclined. Simply a short rod with a big blunt metal hook on the end (think captain hook). With one of these you can gently squeeze it in behind the crab, stopping it retreating further in to its hole, then gently pries it out in to the open. Once you have it out in the open or at least in safe grabbing territory you need to get a hold of it. As a breath hold diver, the quickest and safest way to handle a big crab is by grabbing its main claws, one in each hand. Hold it just behind the claws, on the fore arms. By doing this there is no way it can pinch you. You can hold from the back of the shell but some crabs have got more mobile claws than others and may give you a nip.

Cooking one…

As with a lot of shell fish you can boil them, bbq them or bake them all depending on their size. The bigger males (known as cocks) have more white meat and the females (hens) have more brown meat. A good visual clue to a meat heavy crab is that it should be covered in barnacles and other marks. This means it has been growing in to its shell for some time and is full of meat, as opposed to a clean looking crab which would have just shed in to its new shell so is basically a bit empty. Killing a brown crab is quite simple. Flip the pointy flap up which is found on its abdomen, expose the little hole then drive a knife or spike in to it. This will kill it instantly and is much kinder than boiling alive. You will know its dead as the limbs go limp instantly.

The triangular flap which needs to be pulled up and out in order to uncover the hole which you penetrate to kill the crab

In the next post we will talk about catching my personal favorite… the spider crab… Yum! 


7 Responses

  1. Hi was just wondering about when catching multiple crabs I assume that you have a catch bag attached to your float? Do you put multiple crabs in one bag as I was unsure about this and didn’t want to do it if they were going to attack each other as id rather not make there last few hours complete hell!

    1. Hi, Yes id drop them in to a catch bag on the float. Brown crabs are seriously strong and will easily break each other shells with their claws so restraining them is a useful habit to get in to. Bring a few decent elastic bands with you and wrap them around their pincers, that should hold them. Good luck!

  2. Hi there!

    I was out for crabs and scallops this September in Norway and it was fantastic! In 10 days, it was not neccessary to go to the supermarket and had all the fish & seafood we could possible eat. Dont know abt the british regions but if youre interested, take a look at a short video i made out of the trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5Zlmveq-8c


    1. You can collect them throughout the year, there is a period in the summer where they are shedding where they are hard to find and they dig deep in to the crevises to hide. In the winter some do go deeper but the majority hang out i the same spots, you have less seaweed cover in the winter so they are actually easier to find….

  3. Are there any permits, count, size or permitted equipment limits when collecting brown crab or spider crab?

  4. I am in my eighth decade and have been crabbing since early childhood at low springs and by free diving and never use a hook. I was taught that a hook was cheating as often the crab or lobster are damaged by the implement plus it is hardly sporting. Stick your hand in the hole and have a blind wrestle at arms length, they’ll be some that win but with a hook they all lose or are mutilated.

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