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Dungeness Crab

By willj in Culture
Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 09:22:24 AM EST
Tags: Food (all tags)

You know that winter has descended upon you when the days become long and you can feel the cold in your bones. It is also then that descending upon the west coast of North America, from San Francisco bay up to Alaska, is the Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crab gets its name from the town of Dungeness, Washington. The Dungeness crab is the sweetest crab, yet not as sweet as lobster. It is not as large as king crab or snow crab, but is larger than soft-shell or rock crabs. They reproduce during the summer and stay in cold water which is why they are only harvested during the winter in the San Francisco Bay area. It is also my favorite food on the planet. Here is the process that I go through to pick and eat this delightful crustacean.

The crabs you find at grocery stores have already been boiled which gives them a nice pink color. Live crabs have more of a brown coloring. Should you be interested in catching your own then you need a crab pot and a ruler to measure the crabs you catch. You have to throw back any that don't meet the minimum width requirements for harvesting which is 6 1/4" across the widest part of the shell, just behind the point on each side. And you can only keep the male crabs, which have a narrower piece of triangle shell on their underside. By not allowing the females to be harvested the Dungeness crab fisheries have been able to sustain themselves far better than most seafood.

If you've caught your own crabs then you want to boil some water with salt in it and then throw the crabs in until they stop moving and completely turn pink, about 15 to 20 minutes. Some recipes call for slicing the crab in half, cleaning it out, and then cooking it. You never want to cook a crab that is not moving or has been dead for some time.

When picking crabs at the store you want the largest ones possible as they will have the highest ratio of meat to shell. Make sure that the crab has its front claws and the leg immediately behind it as they have the most meat in them. The small back legs have very little meat and it is harder to get out.

A lot of seafood departments will clean your crabs out for you. The Whole Foods near me will even make a preliminary crack in every leg for you. Instead of waiting around for them to do it, I usually just take the crabs home and clean them myself. It only takes about a minute or two per crab. First take the triangle-shaped shell off of the bottom of the crab and then take the top shell off. Next take off the gills which are the rows of spongy white things on the two sides of the crabs, located above the legs. Then scoop all of the "crab butter" which is the yellow gunk on the inside of the crab. Crack the crab in two and rinse out anything left over that is not meat. Here are some illustrations of the process and here is the process in pictures.

To get the meat out of the crab you need to crack the shell. Tools for cracking nuts are quite apt at cracking crabs as well. If you don't have those available then you should be able to crack most of the crab with your hands with the exception of the claw which you might have to crack on the table or with your, hopefully strong, teeth. Be careful when cracking with your hands else you are likely to cut your fingers up pretty badly.

As good as Dungeness crab tastes on its own, it is even better dipped in a butter sauce. Here is the recipe that I use for two people.

  • Four cloves of garlic minced
  • One stick of butter
  • ½ tablespoon salt (sea salt is preferable)
  • Juice from one half of a lemon
  • ¼ cup beer (optional)

Stick the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the pan once the butter melts down. Let that simmer for a couple minutes while stirring frequently. Add the salt, lemon, and beer and let it cook for another couple minutes. Pour into a couple of bowls and serve with your crab.

Remember that recipes are merely guidelines. If you love garlic as much as I do then you're probably going to want to stick in another clove or two. I also usually add more salt than this.

You can get fresh Dungeness crab throughout the winter and previously frozen crabs year round. That means that you can use it in whenever you have a recipe that calls for crab. Here are some Dungeness crab recipes from the Food Network. Hopefully eating Dungeness crab will give you a reason to love winter.


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Dungeness Crab | 64 comments (44 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
Abomination! (1.06 / 15) (#8)
by Jonathan Walther on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 03:46:35 AM EST

Eating crab is akin to eating raw sewage.  YHWH specifically forbids eating anything that lives in the ocean without scales and fins.

God probably won't strike you down for this paritcular sin; your own filthy eating habits will do the job.

Repent, return into YHWH and obey his laws; see if he does not pour out blessings upon you until you cannot receive any more.

(Luke '22:36 '19:13) => ("Sell your coat and buy a gun." . "Occupy until I come.")

Curious.. (2.75 / 4) (#22)
by sudog on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 07:31:41 PM EST

..when you make posts like these, what exactly is your aim?

[ Parent ]
He's a religious fanatic (none / 0) (#56)
by Shimmer on Sat Dec 11, 2004 at 01:15:50 AM EST

What do you think his aim is?

Wizard needs food badly.
[ Parent ]
He never used to be.. (none / 0) (#63)
by sudog on Wed Dec 22, 2004 at 08:25:32 PM EST

.. in fact, some of his old posts on private mailing lists were the most cogent and intelligent notes I've had the pleasure of reading.

Anyway, I was simply curious to know why he was grandstanding like that, and what precisely his aim was in doing so.

[ Parent ]

Culturally insensitive during Hannukah (1.07 / 13) (#12)
by Adam Rightmann on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 01:02:36 PM EST

I'm not Jewish, but I'm pretty sure crabs and other crustaceans aren't kosher, except for the locusts/grasshoppers that John ate in the Wilderness.

Seeing as the Jews are all celebrating Hannukah now, is it really fair to be discussing culinary treats they can't have? Maybe this can be postponed a few weeks?

OK, so you're saying... (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by hawthorne on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 05:19:51 PM EST

that crustaceans are kosher during the rest of the year?

[ Parent ]
That means it's culturally insensitive (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by EvilGwyn on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 06:10:19 PM EST

to ever eat meat since Hindus should never eat meat.

[ Parent ]
Nothing like being a Jew-lite (TM) (none / 0) (#19)
by strlen on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 07:20:12 PM EST

Best of both worlds. Eggs and bacon in the morning, latke's with wine in the evening. Not to mention, you can celebrate all the civic-religious holidays just as well too. And of course shell fish (an abomination worse than homosexuality) at other times.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
shell fish (none / 0) (#25)
by willj on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:12:11 PM EST

What exactly is wrong with shell fish? Why aren't they kosher?

[ Parent ]
Biblical law (none / 1) (#27)
by strlen on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:26:12 PM EST

I do not however, know the precise details of why it so, but I'd imagine is that it's due to the fact that in the Middle East of biblical times, no counterances were available to microbes that shellfish could potentially carry - being able to eat shellfood without food poisoning is pretty recent, and given lack of knowledge about microbes "God must hate it" must have been a good explanation.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Pretty good explanation for not knowing (none / 1) (#29)
by willj on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:46:22 PM EST

It sounds completely reasonable.

You manage to BS your way through school? :)

[ Parent ]

Marvin Harris's book Good to Eat (none / 1) (#50)
by Opposite George on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 11:51:51 PM EST

The late cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris had a theory that cultural food taboos were related significantly to economic and ecological efficiency in production. So, by his theory, pork is non-Kosher not because of the fear of disease (the rules could just say "make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked") but because it's a waste of time and scarce tribal resources trying to raise pigs in the desert when it's much more productive to raise sheep and goats under those conditions. Maybe gathering or farming shellfish in the area where the kosher laws were devised is wasteful compared to catching scaled fish? I'll have to dig up my copy of GTE and see if he addressed this. I do know that there are other areas of the world where eating shellfish was commonplace in ancient times (e.g., coastal North America) and I'd think that if people were dropping dead from eating oysters they'd stop doing it without G-d having to bring it to their attention. Maybe the tradeoff between the risk of illness and the amount of effort required to gather shellfish works out differently in these areas. I don't know how widely his ideas were accepted in his field but it's an interesting theory nonetheless.

[ Parent ]
As, I've said "Middle East" (none / 0) (#51)
by strlen on Fri Dec 10, 2004 at 12:49:16 AM EST

Very specific climate, which also has implications for eating shell fish. Of course, there's parts of the world with civilizations just as ancient that did eat fish, in the same climate, but perhaps they didn't decide to make anything of it, while ancient Hebrews did. Thanks for posting the idea though, makes sense. You could also research the conditions off the local seas.

By the way, Israel right now is one of the largest exporters of smoked pork, but of course, although modern industrial farming techniques could probably account for that, but there's also the kibbutz element -- so there are trade offs to be made, in terms of opportunity costs of pork vs. lamb (of course Middle Eastern lamb dishes are excellent as well -- Afghan and Persian cuisines are some of my favorite).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]

Re: "Middle East" (none / 0) (#52)
by Opposite George on Fri Dec 10, 2004 at 05:15:16 AM EST

I think you probably hit on it. Of course my guess is a devout Harrisite would say "Yes, but of course a sick person is a drain on community resources...." And so on, and so on.... Sociologists probably get into fistfights over their pet theories all the time; I'm glad I stuck to math in college. It's much simpler to know if you're right :)

The Israeli smoked pork phenomenon was a surprise to me -- not because of the economics, as water and grain are much cheaper today than they were in Leviticus days -- but because of my (limited) understanding of the traditional Israeli feeling about pigs in general. On reading a little on the web, it seems that laws prohibiting pork sales within the country were only relaxed recently but I couldn't tell if the law preventing pig raising except for "research" purposes was changed as well. Is that what happened or is the current definition of "pork research" in Israel similar to what constitutes "whale research" in Japan?

I'm sure there was a lot of friction on the law change from the more religious community but I guess the demographic's changed enough over the past few years for this to become possible. In any case, it's really really hard to win a battle when you're fighting against bacon. :)

Having gotten completely off topic here, let me offer an article I ran across recently that I, as a (non-Jewish but been to my share of weddings, bar mitzvahs and seders) New Yorker found kind of interesting. YMMV. (Darn. Now I really want an egg roll)

[ Parent ]

Hygiene? (none / 1) (#28)
by JanneM on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 09:35:40 PM EST

AINAPOR (I Am Not A Person Of Religion), but it seems Kosher (as well as the similar Halal rules for muslims) are grounded in health principles.

The meats that are forbiddeen (crustaceans and pork, for instance) are stuff that will spoil very easily, or are normally infected (pork meat almost always contain parasites, for instance). Also, many of the rules about seprating cooking of different foods will limit spread of infection from one food to another (using separate tools for meat and vegetables makes a lot of sense when the vegetables will be eaten raw).

Of course, keeping stuff chilled, making sure you cook stuff fully, and cleaning everything off thouroughly between uses works fine today, but was perhaps not so easy several centuries ago, especially since the source of infection and food poisoning wasn't actually known.
Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend.
[ Parent ]

Plus (none / 1) (#32)
by skim123 on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 12:59:38 AM EST

Not only is it a hygenic matter, but God/Allah forbids it. Who are we to question His wisdom?

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
Maybe (none / 0) (#61)
by czolgosz on Mon Dec 13, 2004 at 08:53:40 PM EST

...it seems Kosher (as well as the similar Halal rules for muslims) are grounded in health principles.
Since other people at the time knew the proper way to eat those foods (for example, both the Egyptians and Chinese kept pigs and knew to avoid rare pork, and the Greeks ate shellfish and knew when to harvest it), I have never accepted the likelihood of this. After all, it assumes a rational basis for religious beliefs. Never a good idea. They could have as likely originated in totemic practices (for instance, the pig was central to some non-Jewish religious rites in the region), or just the obsessive-compulsive nature of priests.

The most plausible scenario is that some religious bureaucrats worked out a simplistic taxonomy, then tried to declare as taboo anything in nature that didn't fit their idiotic categories. For example, it's OK to eat fish as long as they have both fins and scales "like real fish ought to." If they don't fit the arbitrary definition, there's something wrong with them so you can't eat them. Similarly the environmentally unsound prohibition against sowing two kinds of seed in one field. Or making sure by various means that "men is men and women is women." Or the ritual purification rules, which often had more to do with cosmetic appearance than real cleanliness. Some stuff may have gotten banned because it was known to be poisonous, but quite a lot got on the list because some Levite didn't like its looks. "Because it's an abomination."

Even when beliefs such as these have survival value, it's as often through promotion of group cohesion as it is because "it's good for you." For example, circumcision made it hard for a Jew to pretend he wasn't Jewish. Good way to keep him on-side when the going gets tough. And most primitive societies have painful, humiliating initiation rituals.

I think it's insidious (not to mention anachronistic) to assume that early people made such decisions for reasons that have anything to do with rationality. It's an argument that's often used as an excuse to perpetuate cruel and dysfunctional practices because of the "wisdom" of tradition. Once in a while, by dumb luck, that tradition might have yielded a benefit. But I see little reason to give such beliefs the benefit of the doubt.

Assuming it's all there because of some simplistic survival value is nothing more than another urban legend.

Why should I let the toad work squat on my life? --Larkin
[ Parent ]
What's wrong with shellfish? (none / 1) (#34)
by Arker on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 03:36:02 AM EST

I'm not religious about it anymore, but I still usually follow kosher rules. In addition to the quite accurate information volunteered by another poster that things which are not kosher (biblical kosher, rabbinical kosher, and halal are just variations on the same theme) are things more likely to be health risks, just think for a second about what you're eating. What is a crab? Basically a really big, ugly cockroach that swims. You really want to eat that? Do you know what it eats?

Unclean fish (such as catfish) are generally garbage eaters. Other unclean seafood are either big swimming bugs, or snotballs in shells, and also garbage eaters. Dogs, pigs, and most other unclean land animals are garbage eaters or outright carnivores. When you eat a garbage eater, you're eating something that contains distilled, concentrated waste. When you eat a carnivore, it's a very similar position as well - carnivores concentrate in their own tissues poisons picked up from the many other animals they have eaten.

I wouldn't eat a crab unless I was absolutely starving to death and there was no other possibility - and even then I'm not sure I could do it, the smell of them makes me nauseous and the one time I actually tasted on I puked on the spot. But I'm still going to vote this article up, because a lot of people do eat them, and it might be useful to them.

[ Parent ]
Origins of kashrut unclear (none / 1) (#55)
by isdnip on Fri Dec 10, 2004 at 03:27:32 PM EST

We did discuss this as part of my religious education, from a non-Orthodox Jewish perspective.

The traditional Orthodox answer is in fact good enough for most -- Because.  You don't question the Torah; God commanded it, and He has his reasons.

Non-Jews however look for secular reasons, usually health.  I find that, frankly, ridiculous.  Sure, raw pork or shellfish at red tide are bad for you, but so are lots of other things.  Kashrut isn't about health at all.  Nor is it about efficiency, as some have posited -- eating sheep is not all that much more efficient, if at all, than eating pigs.

The reason I find most compelling is simple, though.  Kashrut, which only applies to Jews and is NOT intended to apply to others, exists specifically to keep Jews apart.  As in "don't marry a shiksa" (to use a vulgar but common Yiddish term for non-Jewish woman).  Endogamy is a key feature of Judaism, accepted by all significant movements.  As a nation/tribe that has a religion, rather than a religious group intended for the world to join, Jews need separateness.  How are you going to marry somebody when you can't even eat what she cooks for dinner? Food is central to social organization (probably more so in the ancient days) so making food sacred *and different* is a way to maintain a separate national identity.

In practice, only a minority of Jews in America keep kosher strictly, though some eat shellfish but not pork, or eat milk with meat but not shellfish, or eat meats that could be kosher, like beef and chicken, without the certification.

[ Parent ]

locusts (none / 1) (#53)
by Battle Troll on Fri Dec 10, 2004 at 08:39:46 AM EST

Those were actually vegetable pods of some sort.
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]
(rp topic-sorry) Bigger is better for crabs? Odd.. (2.00 / 2) (#21)
by sudog on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 07:25:48 PM EST

Usually the bigger the creature, the tougher and more rubbery (and crappier tasting) it is. Smaller lobster, for example in the 2.5-3 lb range is the best tradeoff: enough meat for a meal, and still young and tender enough to have a superior taste.

If the biggest crabs don't taste any worse, that's kind of weird.

Besides, the reasoning why (more meat to dollar ratio) doesn't hold. People think Atlantic lobster is best when it's in the 10 lb range, but in reality that stuff is nasty. (Hint: there's a reason why the 2.5-3 lb stuff is the most expensive, and why they always tell you they don't have any more of it.)

Different types (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by willj on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 08:33:11 PM EST

It sounds to me that you are comparing different types of lobster. Maine lobsters get a lot bigger than the California spiny lobster. The California spiny lobster is said to taste better and you can only eat the tail.

Last weekend I had snow crab legs at a holiday party and. The snow crab is a lot larger than a Dungeness and you're right, the meat is tougher and more rubbery.

What I mean is that you should get the biggest Dungeness crab you can find. A 2.5lb Dungeness crab is huge and the largest you can usually find in a grocery store is about two pounds. Most are typically 1.5 to 1.75 pounds. Get the larger crab as you will get larger pieces of meat from the legs.

[ Parent ]

Atlantic Lobster actually. (none / 1) (#30)
by sudog on Wed Dec 08, 2004 at 11:39:47 PM EST

I'm talking solely about the best lobster in the world--Canadian Atlantic lobster. :) So far nothing else has come close.

[ Parent ]
Hrm. (none / 0) (#42)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 09:27:04 AM EST

Dunno about that - in a lot of animals, the older and tougher the animal the more flavor the meat has. It might be tougher, but that just means you have to know the right way to cook it.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it is insane. - Obscure Chinese Proverb
[ Parent ]
Manager @ ClearWater Lobster says... (none / 0) (#64)
by sudog on Wed Dec 22, 2004 at 08:43:21 PM EST

...that the best lobster they sell is the 2.5-3 lb lobster, and the bigger ones are disgusting. The guy runs the place, I'd expect he knows what he's talking about. :)

Just to repeat myself: I'm talking about Atlantic lobster specifically. Others I don't know so much about. :)

[ Parent ]

pinch the tail, suck the head, -1 dump it (1.10 / 10) (#31)
by RandomLiegh on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 12:53:16 AM EST

god hates shrimp.

Thought of the week: There is no thought this week.
Mmm crab (1.00 / 4) (#36)
by nebbish on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 05:22:36 AM EST

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee

Seriously (none / 1) (#45)
by bg on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 12:21:10 PM EST

WTF was with that 0?

This is getting ludicrous, ridiculous, completely lacking in logic.

NB: That last sentance was for all the 12th Man fans out there. And seeing as though there are probably only 10 Australians on this site, it would be a bloody miracle if anyone gets it.

- In heaven, all the interesting people are missing.
[ Parent ]

My wife likes crab (3.00 / 2) (#37)
by codejack on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 08:17:54 AM EST

But then, she was bitten by a spider when she was young, and I think she is out for revenge.

Please read before posting.

And I hate crab. (none / 0) (#38)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 08:40:20 AM EST

So considering that opposites, by nature, attract each other, I insist you remove that link to the donkey sanctuary this moment.

The Big F Word.
[ Parent ]
If you insist (none / 0) (#39)
by codejack on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 09:04:55 AM EST

But somehow I expect you to be begging me to change it back now :)

Please read before posting.

[ Parent ]
What can I say? (none / 0) (#40)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 09:08:07 AM EST


The Big F Word.
[ Parent ]
Dungeness, mmmmmmm (3.00 / 2) (#43)
by mrtaz65 on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 12:06:34 PM EST

Growing up on the north oregon coast, I am very familiar with these beauties. I have worked on crab boats, worked in seafood processing plants and personally cleaned probably 100-200 tons of these in the mid 80's. Another thing to check when buying these, if you can, is to pinch a leg and make sure there is actually some meat in them. A big but light crab has probably just gone through a molting and is practically empty of meat. Being a seafood lover, I would rate dungeness crab as the best of the best. Lobster is good and all, but nothing beats dungeness crab fresh out of the cooker, still warm with a little garlic butter.

grocery store (none / 1) (#44)
by mpalczew on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 12:14:16 PM EST

> The crabs you find at grocery stores have already been boiled

Well, that's not always the case. At the grocery store I shop at they are quite alive.  I make sure to always pick the one that seams most alive.  They will then wrap it in plastic and paper.  These things are alive and will let you know it by moving around in there.  I always stick it in the fridge for a little while before I boil the sucker that way it's movement will have slowed considerably.  
-- Death to all Fanatics!

Boiled alive (none / 1) (#46)
by ENOENT on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 01:10:12 PM EST

Do crabs scream when you drop them into boiling water, like lobsters do?

So nyah.

Sure do (none / 0) (#47)
by JonesBoy on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 01:33:07 PM EST

I don't know if its a vocalization, or just their guts turning to steam and hissing out of their shell.   Either way, its still fun for the whole family!
Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
[ Parent ]
Correction: (none / 0) (#48)
by Mudhiker on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 05:10:29 PM EST

There's no town of Dungeness. There is, however, an isthmus near the town of Sequim called Dungeness Spit. Also, Dungeness crab can be had any time of year, not just in the winter.

Dungeness, WA (none / 0) (#49)
by willj on Thu Dec 09, 2004 at 05:28:02 PM EST


You're right that they can be had all year, particularly in the north Pacific. However, for those further south they cannot. Dungeness crab season starts Nov. 15th in California. If you want them during the summer then you're buying them from the store which are probably from the north Pacific.

[ Parent ]

Oh yes there is! (none / 0) (#54)
by gidds on Fri Dec 10, 2004 at 10:39:21 AM EST

There's no town of Dungeness.

Actually there is, although it's not the one intended in the story -- it's in Kent. (I refuse to put 'Kent, England', unless every mention of a US state gets the country added too!)

It wouldn't surprise me if you Yanks pinched the name from there, just like you've pinched most of our other place names. Didn't you have any imagination back then, either?

[fx: goes for a quick skiing holiday in the hope of avoiding flames]

[ Parent ]

On what planet is your winter? (none / 0) (#57)
by brunes69 on Sun Dec 12, 2004 at 04:16:05 PM EST

You know that winter has descended upon you when the days become long and you can feel the cold in your bones

Er... the days are shorter in winter. That is the reason it is cold - the earth's celestial rotation has taken it further from the sun.

---There is no Spoon---

No. (none / 0) (#58)
by sonovel on Sun Dec 12, 2004 at 10:49:16 PM EST

The earth is closest to the sun during the northern hemisphere's winter.

It's all about tilt, not distance. After all, the poles are just about the same distance from the sun as the equator.

[ Parent ]

Not entirely (none / 0) (#59)
by brunes69 on Mon Dec 13, 2004 at 07:40:26 AM EST

Tilt does play a large factor, yes. But the earth does not travel in a perfect circle around the sun. It travels in an ellipse. Winter (in the northern hemesphere at least) begins close to the time when the earth is furthest from the sun.

---There is no Spoon---
[ Parent ]
You're still wrong. (none / 0) (#60)
by sonovel on Mon Dec 13, 2004 at 09:59:50 AM EST

Northern Hemisphere winter is when the Earth is closest to the Sun. Perihelion is January 4th this year.

[ Parent ]
Illegal to catch in the Bay. (none / 0) (#62)
by WhiteBandit on Tue Dec 14, 2004 at 10:59:52 PM EST

Note that it is illegal to catch these crabs within the Bay.

Dungeness Crab | 64 comments (44 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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