Not easy to find but, if you know the types of nooks they live in, patience and a lung full of air is all you need to catch a fair size brown crab for the pot.
On this occasion the sea is choppy and, not wanting a kayak anchored on the surface whilst diving, I swim to a reef previously spotted from cliffs above, take a lung full of air and dive to orientate myself with the lie of the bed.
On a second descent I start my sweep at the deepest part of the reef where the rock meets a sandy gully. Visibility is limited today to about thee metres and I swim and wriggle and pull myself along looking under rocks, ledges and cracks in a methodical manner so as not to miss any ground.
Wearing dive gloves I am mindful that a veteran could otherwise have fun with my fingers. Its claws are designed to sever flesh and to break bones and any animal cornered is treated in much the same way as a car meeting its life’s end at the hands of the wrecker’s claw.
First, the saw claw cuts and sevvers flesh and sinew and then the other club claw squashes and breaks bone and cartilage. Both claws are differently shaped for efficiency with each separate task. If the crab is attacking crustaceans it uses the two claws in reverse to above.
A dimpled edge to their body gives them the comic resemblance of a Cornish pasty. This said they have the charm of a battle tank. Red brown in colour, robust and heavy set, with a bone hard shell and a low gait defensive profile; their powerful claws are menacingly highlighted with black tips at the business end.
The brown crab is the most popular edible crab in the British Isles and the one most likely to be seen on ice in supermarkets.
A decent sized crab is a good meal full of vitamins and minerals and the sure way to know how ‘full’ a crab is under its armour is by judging the age of its shell – if it’s covered in barnacles and marks it is mature and the crab will be sure to have grown into its shell suit. If on the other hand the shell is new then it is likely the crab within is still growing.
Before completing my sweep around the reef I find a crab. Decent sized and aware of my presence, he has backed up under a ledge making it hard to grab his claws. I reach down to my ankle strap where I keep a crab hook by way of a fashioned coat hanger and slowly pass the tool over the his back and behind into the rock cranny to stop him backing up further. I carefully pull the crab towards me, his claws snapping at my fingers, both of us stare at each other all the while.
Running low on fuel, I know that if I did not have him swiftly on the open sand I will have to the surface. As he slides into the open I use the hook to keep him low to the sand with a downward pressure on his carapace whilst I grab beyond his claws for the forearms.
With the hook between my teeth I swim to the surface, both my hands holding claws. I gasp for air at the surface and wonder which is more difficult: swimming to shore laden with dive weights, both hands occupied with an angry crab or treading water in choppy sea whilst trying to put the warring beast into a dive bag.
Either way supper will be delicious.