Blue tinges on dark shells and blue patches on the legs give the crab its name. Males have blue claws; females’ claws are orange-tipped. Blue crabs average 4 to 6 inches across. In the domestic fishery, male crabs (“Jimmies”) and immature females (“Sallies”) may be taken as hardshells when their carapace measures 5 inches. There are no size limits on mature female crabs (“sooks”). Blue crab is sold in both hardshell and softshell forms. Peeler crabs are those taken just before molting; softshell crabs are those harvested right afterward. The crabs are harvested with traps, nets and dredges. Blue crabs are found in brackish estuaries and bays from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico. The largest concentration is in Chesapeake and Delaware bays off Maryland and Virginia. North Carolina and Louisiana have blue-crab fisheries as well. The same sapidus species is found in Central and South America, which supply crabmeat to the U.S. market. Blue swimming crab from the Portunus genus is imported from Southeast Asia, primarily as pasteurized meat.
Blue crab caught in the Chesapeake Bay with trotlines is a "Best Choice." The population's abundance has generally been increasing in the U.S., and bycatch of other species is a low concern. Trotlines are set in sand and silt habitat, so impacts on the Chesapeake Bay’s bottom habitat are a low concern.
Blue crab caught in the U.S. with pots and Mexico's Gulf of Mexico with crab rings or scoopnets is a "Good Alternative." In the U.S., blue crab pot fisheries are the greatest threat to the diamondback terrapin, a near threatened species of turtle. While Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey have implemented measures to reduce diamondback terrapin bycatch, other states haven’t. Management of these fisheries is moderately effective, but measures are needed to reduce bycatch and ghost fishing. In Mexico's Gulf of Mexico, the status of blue crab is unknown. This fishery also catches sharptooth swimming crab, and its stock status is unknown too. Bycatch of other species is minimal, and management is rated moderately effective. Seafloor impacts are likely low, and researchers have found no evidence of ecosystem impacts.
Under the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program, companies must track their blue crab imports from the point of harvest to when they enter the U.S. This program aims to stop illegally caught or counterfeit seafood from entering the American market.
Live crabs can be steamed or boiled and eaten straightaway or used in sauces or salads. Fried crab cakes, made with picked meat, bread crumbs, butter and seasoning, are a traditional favorite. Softshells are best sautéed, broiled or grilled at high heat, so shells become crisp. They’re often fried and served in sandwiches.