Soft Crabs: Everything You Need To Know

A bunch of crabs are laying on the table

Whats The Difference Between A Regular Crab & A Soft Shell Crab?

Maryland is famous for Steamed Crabs but Some people would say that the soft crab is the more delicious of the two. You may have asked yourself, is a soft crab a completely different species then a regular crab? This is a question we get quite often. A lot of people simply do not know and have never been explained the process behind the soft crab.

soft crabs


Photo by Bill Whaley

A Soft shell crab is actually a regular crab that is going through whats called a molt. Because a crabs shell is external it must shed out of the old shell in order to replace it as it grows. When a crab initiates the process of molting, it releases enzymes that separate the shell slightly from the actual body of the crab. Afterwards for numerous weeks the crab begins to grow a new soft shell under its old hard shell. Once the new soft shell has been formed the crab begins to ingest water to bloat itself which causes it to loosen the previous shell. And the soft crabs will then slowly begin to pull its body out of the shell along with its legs and claws.

20%-30% Larger In Size After Each Growth

At this point the crab is harvested to be sold or consumed. The longer the crab stays in the water the harder its soft shell becomes. Eventually it will fully harden just as the original shell was, but it will be 20%-30% larger in size. Over the course of a male crabs life it can go through 18-20 separate molting cycles. In addition Crabs also have the ability to regrow (regenerate) legs or claws that it has lost in as little as 3 molting cycles. To learn more take a look below. We will explain the process that we go through in order to produce and harvest these wonderful delicacies.

peeler shedding out into soft crab


Photo from Our State

Commercial Soft Crabs Shedding Operation

In order to shed the crab first acquire the hard shell crabs that are very close to a molting stage. These crabs are known as “peelers”. Peelers are selected by the water-men throughout each day while crabbing on the bay. They show certain signs that can be determined by the water-men. Those peelers are then taken to the shedding operation. They are placed in fiberglass tank which have water being pumped through. Finally the tanks are checked every 3-4 hours to remove any soft shell crabs that have successfully molted. I would then harvest the crab and store them in refrigeration until they are sold or cleaned and wrapped to be frozen.

soft shell crabs shedding tanks


Photo by Kyle Peveto

For more detail on the molting process check out

Check out our recipes below:
Maryland Crab Cakes
Mini Crab Melts
Eastern Shore Crab Imperial
Baked Stuffed Shrimp