Can You Eat Spider (Sheep) Crabs?

Eating Spider Crabs — From the pages of Pier Fishing In California (

A large spider crab taken by SanClementeEric at the Redondo Beach Pier in 2005

Date: September 4, 1999
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Sarcastic Fringehead
Subject: If it’s edible, somebody will eat it….

People eat anything and everything…I’ve seen guys catch turtles out of dirty inner-city ponds and take them home…and I’ll bet ya it wasn’t for a pet. I once saw this guy catch this stinking, ugly looking spider crab. The thing looked like the grandfather of spider crabs…. it was covered with some kind of slimy algae and barnacles…the guy was soooo happy cause it’s legs were like three feet long each… he told me he was going to break out the lemon and butter. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they were hollow. I’m sure mullet is edible… they sell em in Asian fish markets. Let us know how they taste…. couldn’t be any worse than sardines or anchovies.

Posted by Snookie

Dear Sarcastic Fringehead, The big crab you mentioned is quite edible especially that size. Of course you won’t be eating that outer area with the growth on it. Boil the legs for about 10 -20 minutes. You will need an anvil or something similar and of course a hammer. Do not do this in the house. The meat from those legs is delicious and plentiful. When there is a red tide in the area it is wise not to eat the crab or any other shellfish until the tide has dissipated, and the shellfish has had a chance to filter out the dinoflagellates—Just in case. Snookie

A nice spider crab taken by Daniel at the Redondo Sportfishing Pier in 2007

Posted by finkelstien on October 19, 2000
Subject: Balboa Pier

I fished from 6pm till midnight and boy were the small mack’s hitting at one point it took five seconds after the bait hit the water to get a bite — yippee! I put most back but i did have a crab net down and caught 10 spider crabs !!! One was so big that with the legs extended it was bigger than the hoop net (36″) There is going to be a feast tonight !!!

Posted by ghsu

What are the regulations for Spider Crabs? Or can they be caught all year? The ones I ran into are often very dirty looking. Are they any good eating? Thanks.

Posted by zen

You better watch out if ur gonna eat its orange stuff inside the shell, taste kinda good but that’s packed with cholesterol

Posted by asegoria

They are really tasty, but their shell is so thick you need a few good whacks from a respectable hammer to crack it. They also take a longer time to cook. I have never heard of any reg’s regarding them. They can also get incredibly large; I’m sure finkelstein’s description is no exaggeration.

Posted by baitfish

What part do you eat and how do you clean them? I caught one at Santa Barbara Wharf, one time when I was fishing. Reeled him right up onto the pier, guess he really wanted that squid. Anyway, when I looked at him he had a heavy algae coating on top with worms. Not to appetizing! Didn’t think to try and eat one. But when I was leaving I noticed the sold them live at the fish market right on the pier. Maybe I should have sold it to them:-)  So do you just boil them or how do you prepare them? I have a crabbing/ landing net, so I could always through it over and see what happens. any suggestions for bait, technique etc.? Tight Lines, Baitfish


Well, as far as cooking I am not sure, but I was told about 7-8 min per pound; the last spider crab I caught was about 8-9lbs. The technigue I used was tying just the leg of a panty house filled with sardines. Worked great! I have been told by many locals that in the winter Port Hueneme pier is a hot spot for them. Hope this helps.

Posted by finkelstien

Ok, the reason people don’t eat them is they are a lot of work to clean but this is how I do it. 1st clean as much of the “stuff” off of them (i do this while waiting for the water to boil).
2nd drop them in boiling water for 3 mins then remove them and brush them with a stiff brush and remove as much of the debris from off of them. 3rd discard the water and start another pot boiling (always change the water after the first boil); boil four mins per pound.
Be sure to get the meat from the leg joints of the body. It’s a lot of labor but the meat is the greatest oh and get the slip joint pliers to crack the legs open. As for bait I use four large hooks to keep my bait on the net (4/0 or bigger) and I use squid and anchovies mostly.

Spider crab from the Balboa Pier in 2004

Posted by fishfinder on April 16, 2001
Subject: Spider Crabs

Anyone know where I can catch some spider crabs this time of year?  Also what bait? Any DFG regs on Size or Bag Limits? I live in the L.A. area. thanks Pat

Posted by baitfish

Try Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, I’m not sure about the regs, but there is a link below to the DFG site… Adam

Posted by SurFan

Seen them at Balboa Pier. Some people use chicken as bait or cans of fish based cat food(just punch a bunch of holes in the can and use the can as the bait container). Locally caught fish will probably get you the best results as bait. I’ve also seen frozen mackerel in two pound bags at Stater Bros Market for $2.50. Plastic tie downs are useful to attach the bait to the nets. There is probably a good chance you’ll find spider crabs at just about any pier in Southern Califonia. Good luck!

Posted by Snookie

Balboa Pier is a good place for catching spider crabs. They can be all around the pier from past the surf to the end of the pier. This time of year is the best time to get them. I have always caught mine on live bait and a single hook, but your umbrella net or a somewhat flat landing net will do well too. Lace these with dead bait. Dead anything will do however. Do no keep the small crabs. They are only trouble to fix. I usually try to have crabs with a carapace size of from 7 too 9 inches in diameter. These are the tastiest. They are also the hardest to work with. The legs are surrounded with 1/4 inch thick armor, but it is worth the effort. When the crabs are caught, you can remove the legs and put them into a cooler to be cooked when you get home. Steam as you would any crab. They are deeeeelicious. Good luck. Snookie

Posted by fishfinder

Thanks guys. I think I will maybe try for them later this week. Haven’t decided where though. Tight Lines, Pat

Posted by CK

I catch loads of them at Hueneme pier. I was just there and ended up catching about two dozen but only kept the biggest three. I would literally pull up three at a time. They are all over right now.

Posted by anomaly

What type of net or contraption are you using? I have a hoop net. Will that work for me at Hueneme? Thanks Anomaly

Posted by CK

Ya, everyone else uses the hoop nets and they catch alot of crabs. You will find you catch quite a few Dungeness crabs as well. Most are small but every once in awhile you’ll get a nice one.

Posted by baitfish

How do you cook them and for how long? Adam

Posted by fishfinder

I have read that you can cook them whole. Drop them in boiling water for 3-5 min. and then scrub the shell with a wire brush or some steel wool to get all the plant matter and other little creatures off. Then start a fresh pot boiling and cook them 8-9 min. a pound. You can also just ripp off the legs and cook them for 8-9 min. a pound. The shell is very tough so they have to cook a long time. This is just what I’ve read. Never actually done it though. Hope this helps. Pat

Posted by baitfish

Thanks for the info! I have caught a couple of huge ones of of Fisherman’s Wharf in S.B. Just never ate one. I wonder how they taste/texture… Adam

Posted by CK

Baitfish, I use the Pyramid traps. You can pick them up at Big 5 for 8 bucks. They look cheap but if you replace the string they come with, they work great. You boil them for 30-45 minutes. They taste great.

Posted by baitfish

Cool deal! Thanks CK… I have a hoop net, the Big 5′s around me are pretty lame, so they don’t have much. I’ll keep an eye out for them though. TL Adam

Good-sized spider crab taken by Mike Katz at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara in 1997

Posted by mmmmfiiiish on October 20, 2002
Subject: San Clemente Pier

I got to the pier about 3:30pm and caught two jacksmelt that went to waste on a sliding rig in the first two hours. At 5:30, I walked back to my car and grabbed my hoop net, and stopped by the store for a mackerel and some squid. From 6:00-1:30, the squid never even got a nibble. As for the net, all it produced was a big ugly barnacle encrusted crab. Yes, those ARE 12″ planks. Unfamiliar with crab species and regs, I played it safe and released it. Anyone have any idea what kind that is? Also, how long does it take a barnacle to get that big(about an inch and a half wide next to the front right leg)? The only other signs of life were a small white sea bass caught by another angler and a 2′ leopard shark which I unhooked and released for a guy who landed it but was scared to touch it. Conditions were, for the most part, as baitfish described Santa Monica for the 18th. Overcast with a lot of currents and some wind. On the other hand, I think I can thank the World Series for the fact that there weren’t more than 12 people on the pier at any one time. Oh well, I’ll give it another try tonight. Hopefully it will pan out better. Tim

Posted by tombaAtwork

It’s a Sheep Crab and that is a small one. They taste really good, but one that size has very little meat. The shells are so thick you need a ‘real’ hammer to break them. Bigger ones have much meatier claws.

Posted by baitfish

Too bad the conditions were ripping for you to. BTW, it’s a spider crab.

Posted by tombaAtwork

I think Spider Crab and Sheep Crab both refer to the same species on the West Coast. I have heard people call them Spider Crabs.

Posted by baitfish

Interesting, I have never heard of it being called a sheep crab, but spider crab is also the common name for this crab. After doing some searching, it looks like both names are used, but that is a first for me. Adam

Posted by das limpet

Does kinda look like a sheep. baaaaaaaa. A SHEEP FROM HELL!

Posted by kcruise

In England, the spider’s we catch are sheep crabs. They are considered quite good and eaten in France. Lots of crabbing in the Channel for these.. The males tend to weight in between 8-15lbs, with large powerful pincers. Females will weigh up to 5lbs. Thier pincers are smaller. I keep crabs over 3.5-4lbs. The real secret to eating these monsters is in the cooking. I give them an hour minimum in boiling water. They will smell terrible while cooking, but the smell will change to a sweet smell when they are ready to crack. I use an old canning pot, the type used for boiling canning jars. You’ll want to scrub them down with wire bristle brushes before you cook them. To clean them, remove them from the pot and let cool water run on the bodies for a few minutes. Ready two bags, one for the good parts, the other for the guts and whatnot. First, remove the legs. You’ll have to twist them to get them off. Next, you need to remove the bottom flap on the shell. On the females, this is where the eggs are. It should be popped open with you remove them. The trick is to remove it and the piece of shell on the back of the top shell. Once this is off, you can wash out alot of the guts. Now use a butter knife and work your way around the shell to remove the top shell. Once this comes off, you’ll have the bottom of the crab, the mantibles, gills and other gross stuff! Remove the gills and mantibles with you hands. Be careful around the mantibles, they can be sharp. You should now see the meat, which will be an off-white color. Anything yellow or beige needs to be removed. Also, some of the carpice in side can be broken off. I also break the bottom in two, making it easier to clean. Once it’s all cracked, you should have at least 1/2-1 cup of crab meat. You may have to crack the shell with a mallet. Use a dish towel to wrap the crab and give it a few whacks! You can freeze the cooked crab and use it later, or fridge it. My favorite dish is crab pasta in alfredo sauce. Use the crab, pine nuts, alfredo sauce and any style pasta. Cook the pasta, add the crab, pine nuts and sauce, mix and serve. It also goes well with any other seafood dish. Crab salad can be made, and a 8lbs male will have enough meat to feed 5 people, with left overs. This comes from catching crabs almost every weekend in the summer of 2001.

Spider crabs from the Port Hueneme Pier in 2007

Posted by kcruise on February 23, 2003
Subject: Pier Report, Santa Monica

My daughter and I loaded up early in the morning for Santa Monica Pier, our old haunt. The sky was overcast, and the tide was out. I dropped my first crab net in and set the second one up. The first pull have three spiders in the net, and the day went like that from there. We wound up with 6 total that came home, and caught at least 18. Bait of choice was chicken drumsticks, for $3.76 at Vons. One pull came up with 5 crabs in the net at once. See the photo. Fishing was okay, but I spent more time crabbing. The end result of the day: Six well cooked crabs… I had called the wife and warned her what I was bringing home. Kel

Posted by gyozadude

I’ve never had a spider crab… but I’ve always wondered. How are they eating wise? The picture does give them a flattering red hue.

Posted by donblaze420

Are the Spider crabs good for eating? I have only tasted them once and it seemed as if the shells were harder to break and there was little meat. Looks like a nice day of crabbing though! Good fishing to ya.

Posted by anomaly

I think spider crab meat is quite good. Flesh is very firm. Not as sweet as Dungeness, but it has it’s own unique and distinct flavor. Only drawback is getting to the meat. The crab has to be fairly large to get any meat out of the legs since the shells are so thick. If you are fortunate to catch one, give it a try. That’s what I did, and now I’m hooked.

Posted by Anthony

What’s the best why to crack open the shell? They do taste good but the shell is just a pain that why I don’t catch them anymore.

Posted by kcruise

Cooking and preparing spiders… Okay, the question has been asked… Here’s the skinny. Spider crab is really under enjoyed by pier fishermen. Since I’ve got a ton of these beasts before, there are some tips for them. One, I don’t keep any under 4 lbs. The ones in the sink are in the 5 lbs range. Males can come in at 15+ lbs. My rule of thumb is the shell should be as big as my hand from thumb tip to the end of my pinky stretched. The other tip is cooking. My wife tried a new way last night that she got from the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. She cooked them for 20 mins, cleaned them, then cooked the legs and body for another 10-15 mins. When you clean them, the lower body where the legs attach is filled with meat. Not all of it’s in the legs! BTW, I watched the SBSC do this with spiny lobster, then grill them. Yum!! Cracking requires at least nutcrackers. A rolling pin may work. Also, a towel and a wooden mallet will work. The body can be broken easly to get the meat with a fork. Some markets sell crab crackers with picks. Good Cook is one brand. This meat can be used for anything that requires crab. A 5lbs crab should give you at least a cup of meat, provided you’re willing to work a little for it! The wife two favorites are crab salad and crab in alfredo sauce, pine nuts and noodles. Enjoy! Kel

Spider crabs at the Fort Baker Pier in 2003

Posted by Bent Barrel on May 19, 2003
Subject: Crabbing

Back east I would tie a chicken neck to a string and hang it off the boat or either the bank and scoop up blue crabs when you pull the line close to you slowly. I have also used the round nets that you tie or clip bait to and pull it up fast to trap them in the net. I like crabbing and was curious about the various methods employed here. I mentioned it before but I was more or less asking if anyone goes crabbing and catches anything… I’ve read through several things and there seems to not be a lot of info available for it.

Posted by geckomd

If you recently migrated to our neck of the woods up here in NorCal, Ft. Point Pier, Fort Baker Pier and Pacifica (SF locations) all offer some good crabbing action. However, the crabs here are not as “dingy” as the blue crabs. You can still use the ring net, however, you may also want to invest in a $3.00 bait cage (or make your own) to use with it as well since the seals around these parts are experts at stripping tie-on bait off these nets. Be certain to check the regulations for legal takes.

Posted by kds99

I do some crabbing at Balboa, mostly just to pass the time, Mostly it is spider crabs. I use a crab net and will catch 3-4 every time I go fishing.

Posted by Bent Barrel

I can see how the seals/sea lions would present a problem, I didn’t think about that… I like low country boil, put some cleaned crabs (clean them before you cook them) in a pot after the potatoes (whole little red new potatos), corn on the cod, and sausage are done. Put in shrimp, clams, crab legs, or crawfish or whatever you want in there after the longer cooking stuff is boiled… Old Bay or comparative seasonings are added before the water boils with a few good drinking quality beers… Great with blue crabs or Dungeoness or rock crabs (East Coast rock crabs)… Maybe one day…

Posted by joey805

Hooping at Hueneme Pier Last Night – Blah! Last night from 6pm – 9pm me and a buddy tried out our hooping skills from Huememe Pier and to much avail we ended up with a ton of small crabs. Nothing even worth keeping! Does anyone ever do any good here? I heard there are a ton of large spider crabs here. If you manage to catch one of these beasts, are they worth keeping and eating?

Posted by CK

I have taken my wife and loaded up on large spiders. They are definitely worth catching and eating.

Posted by joey805

What kinda bait do you use? Is it better to go during the day or at night? What location on the pier? How long are you leaving the hoops down for? Can you tell I’m new to this? Thanks for your help, Joey

Posted by joey805

Use a big whole cut mackerel. I tried that last night. It the bait bag we had squid, a whole cut mackerel and a handfull of sardines. All we were pulling up were small spiders and some other Dungenous-looking type crab. Everything so small though!

Small spider crab from the Malibu Pier in 2014

Posted by fishnchips

Try this for hooping… since the sharks are moving in, try using smoothhounds for crabs. Keep them in your freezer for future crab bait. I just chop the head 90% off and expose the guts. I dunno, it’s something about their scent, that works well on crabs. A huge plus is also, the sea lions have never touched my hoop net when I used sharks. If there are no sharks around, you seem to be on the right track with the fishy cut bait inside a bag. Remember, crabs will only stick around your net, if they can actually feed off of your offering. Make sure crabs can actually get to some bait too! The spiders are moving in more and more everyday it seems like. When I went to Pier II in Monterey, I could see huge spider crabs in about 10 feet or less of water. So they don’t only stay in deep water. Keep trying, you’ll get fatties soon. It seems like one night you can make a killing and the very next night, nothing. They seem to like full moons too! Hope some of this info helps!

Posted by joey805

Do you just eat the meat in the legs?

Posted by CK

Yes. The knuckle where the legs attach to the body have meat as well.

Posted by pierangler8787

Crabbing is better during the day time. Some like night time, but IMHO, the day time is better, preferebly in the afternoon hours, before sunset. Like Fishnchip said, spiders will ne in shallow water, but the best crabbing is near or at the end. The end is usually packed, but there is still good crabbing 3/4 way down. It seems the right side is a little better (west), I see a lot of mainly small crabs on the other(east). I think THE bait for humongous spider crabs, is by far, chicken legs. Relatively cheap, and last very long(non frozen is the best). You may spend a little more than what you would for a box of squid, but you will get more and bigger crabs. Mackerel is really good, as is squid. If you buy those big macks in bait shops, then it is a good idead to cut of portions of it and use those one at a time. Example, the head, guts, tail, and finally, chunked or steaked body. Try combinations of the two, and try just mackerel at one time and just chicken legs on another. The chicken legs are more effective with the skin on, but Stuffing a head of mackerel with some skin trailing out the mouth, and eyes, is really good. One more note, please lower the net in the water gently without a ruccus, I’m not saying that you did, it’s just annoying to other anglers when people do this, thanks.

Posted by fishnchips

Chicken… .of course… that used to be my bait of choice, and I never had a problem taking a good amount of crabs over by Ghiradelli Square in SF. Also, the side you fish almost always seems to matter. Like in SF, if a harbor is on one side of the pier, fish the opposite side of the harbor. For some reason, the crabs are noticably smaller on the inside as opposed to the outside of the harbor (depth difference)… might want to take that into consideration too. Also, it does not seem to matter how far you throw the net. Lowering it calmly into the water is much better, as it does scare crabs away when you throw it out and let it splash. Often people think too deep about crabbing….my point of view is: when fishing, how pesty can them crabs be?…. Pretty darn frustrating. And, they always seem to find your little piece of bait on your hook, almost right away. So, take that into consideration…. crabs are easy to attract. It’s just getting some big one’s that’s the hard part. Keep trying and don’t give up!

Posted by anomaly

Redondo Pier/Hermosa: I crab these piers several times a year with some decent results. I use mackerel, chicken wings, and raw pork for bait.

Spider crab from the Crystal Pier in San Diego in 2010

 Posted by Sheldon on February 23, 2011

My brothers and I used to make all night trips out to the Santa Monica Pier back in the 80′s. We would get the last bus on Wilshire Boulevard out to the pier and stay all night and fish. I remember on time we got there and there spider crabs all over the place incuding the trash cans. I guess they were getting hooked up by people who didn’t eat them and were tired of hooking them. We had a blast throwing them all back into the water.

 Posted by Mahigeer

If one goes to the trouble of cleaning them and only keeping the males that have arms at least 3/4″ in diameter–one can enjoy a taste similar to lobsters. That is what I have experienced.

Posted by SranW

Spider crab (Sheep crab) are much better steamed vs. cooked in boiling water. The meat taste as if pre-seasoned, with a little bit of sweetness. You need ~20 min of hot steam to fully cook the crab. The purplish roe (cooked) is very tasty, similar to sea urchin roe, except firmer but sweeter. If you which to try this steamed by a restaurant, you could try Quality Seafood at the Redondo Beach Pier (across from the arcade), 130 S International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, CA 90277; (310) 372-6408

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One Response to Can You Eat Spider (Sheep) Crabs?

  1. JohnMarlin says:

    Back in the late 80’S early 90s, my cousins and I would go out on the jetty at Oxnard beach and catch 8-10 or more spider crabs using just raw chicken in a mesh netting which we tied to a rope. We would just find a good hole between the rocks towards the end of the jetty, drop the bait and wait a few minutes. Then slowly just pull the net up when a crab is on. They stayed on that bait as long as you pulled slowly enough and didn’t get stuck on the rocks. Fun times. We’d steam those up that same night and had a feast. Wondering if anyone else did this and if it’s still being caught there at Oxnard jetty.

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