Before you cast your cages in the water, here are New Jersey’s crabbing rules
🔵 What you need to know before you go out crabbing this summer in New Jersey
🔵 There are size limits and amount limits when it comes to crabs
🔵 Some helpful strategies so you can make the most of your crabbing experience
It's an awesome time going crabbing at the Jersey Shore and such a fun family tradition too with both the experience itself and then catching some lunch or dinner.
As we head closer to prime crabbing season in New Jersey, there are a few rules and other things you need to know before casting your nets and cages.
Matt Heyl, a fisheries biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, says blue crabs -- which are the most common in NJ -- must be a certain length to keep and you can measure them by reaching tip to tip across the shell.
Once you catch them though, you have to keep them.
"You cannot sell crabs that are legally caught, unless, you're in possession of a commercial crab pot license," Heyl said. "Crabs may be taken recreationally with a hand-line or manually operated classical trap or a scoop net without a license."
Heyl adds that all undersized and female crabs with eggs must be released back into the water immediately.
"In Chesapeake Bay, NOAA fisheries did a study that says female crabs can produce between 750,000 and 3.2-million eggs, so, it's very important to put the female crabs with eggs back in the water," Heyl said.
He said that catching and keeping female crabs is okay to do, Heyl explains, if they meet the size limits, but they have to be placed back in the water if they are indeed pregnant and this is something you'll be able to notice.
How many crabs are you allowed to bring home?
If you have that kind of day at the docks with enough crabs to serve dinner for a week, it's possible you may not be able to keep all of them.
All recreational harvest is limited to one bushel, Heyl says, which could leave you with between 72-84 crabs -- (that's quite a catch!).
"It really depends on the size of the crab though," Heyl said.
The blue crabs, which, again are the most common you'll find in NJ, have to be a certain size for you to bring on home.
"A majority of people catching a blue crab are going to catch a hard shell crab," Heyl said. "That minimum size is 4.5 inches."
One of the other types of crabs you may catch is a peeler crab, which is more of a soft-shell crab, and the size limit to keep this one is 3 inches.
"You're not really going to catch that crab, most of the time if you're going crabbing, you're going to catch a hard crab," Heyl said.
You may from time to time find ghost crabs in a hole in the sand, sizzler crabs in saltwater marshes, spider crabs in saltwater bays and then rock and jonah crabs in offshore waters.
The best time of the day to go crabbing in New Jersey
Start making the butter sauce!
We're heading towards peak crabbing season in New Jersey and there's some question over what time of day and what month is most beneficial to head out and catch a nice size haul.
"Crabs have been coming out of the mud for about a couple weeks now but they really start to take hold probably in the first week of July when the water gets pretty warm all the way until the end of October," Heyl said. "A lot of it will depend on current, and, also, the tide."
Early in the morning is the best time to head out but Heyl explains that it doesn't have to be at 3:00 or 4:00 am, sometimes you can still do well getting there around 5:00 or 6:00 am.
"I'll come back with 12-20 good-sized crabs and that's plenty enough to feed me and my family," Heyl said. "You can go any time of day and for anyone who's just starting out, you're going to catch crabs no matter what time, but, I always say the early bird gets the worm."