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How To Keep Dungeness & Blue Crabs Alive – Ice vs. Bushel Storage

Although catching crabs can be a lot of fun, keeping blue crabs alive for consumption later can be a bit more difficult than people think.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when storing or transporting your crabs, especially in a relatively short time window. Crabs can easily die with little to no care for them, so it’s important to get the basics down.

Container & Transportation

Selecting the right container for storing and transportation is important because it affects the other major rules when keeping crabs alive.

When selecting a container, the preferred method is a bushel basket, with some side airflow. You should not select a cooler, plastic container with a lid, or any other fully sealed container, for the following reasons:

  • Air flow – Crabs need to be able to breathe for 24-48 hours while in storage. If you seal off the container, you are cutting off the oxygen supply and they will not be able to breathe.
  • Water levels – Crabs should never be fully submerged in water, and a cooler has solid walls that allow water to fill up. If crabs are kept under water, they will eventually run out of oxygen, similar to if you put a lid on the container. Never use bay water or fresh water to store crabs
  • Temperature of container – solid containers could cause the container to get too hot or too cold, and therefore air flow is essential.

A bushel basket is preferred because it helps prevent a lot of things from going wrong.

bushel of blue crabs

a bushel of blue crabs

Temperature of Storage

You should never store crabs in a situation where it is too hot or too cold. You sometimes want to find what is commonly referred to as a “goldilocks zone.” The best thing to do is simply use your best judgement. Crabs are living organisms and just like most beings cannot withstand a lot of heat or a lot of cold. Follow these tips to keep crabs at the right temperature, thus keep them alive:

  • Never store crabs in direct sunlight, as this creates too much heat and evaporates moisture
  • Never store crabs in a refrigerator or freezer, as they won’t last too long. Typically, you want your crabs alive as long as possible before you clean them or boil them
  • A shady, warm location with air flow is usually best. This could be a garage, outside canopy, or something that provides all of the essentials mentioned above.

Moisture & Water

Although you should never store crabs in submerged water, you should try to keep them relatively wet. Since it’s difficult to bring a container of bay water everywhere, some people opt to use wet seaweed or wet newspaper as a way to keep some moisture in the area. Most crabbers haul up a lot of seaweed inadvertently and it is usually not in short supply on any crabbing trip!

basket of crabs on boat

Air flow and moisture are key

Storing Crabs on Ice

This can be a confusing topic because you will see a lot of people use this method, but they are usually experienced and have a plan. When put on ice, crabs will slowly get knocked out, and then eventually die. Some people use this as a way to calm them down or make them less aggressive. Others time it perfectly so that the crabs are still alive by the time they will be boiled or cleaned.

Live crabs should not be stored on ice long term because they will die.

If you clean crabs, and then store them on ice or in the freezer, they will last much longer.

Hopefully this helped you understand how to prevent crabs from perishing.