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You’re Just an Old Softie

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SOFT SHELL CRAB SEASON IS MOURNFULLY SHORT BUT ALSO WONDERFULLY DELICIOUS

April is my favorite month of the year but then again some years March is my favorite month and some years it’s May. It all depends on the month that starts the quick, sweet season of soft shells crabs, and that month changes from year to year depending on the weather.

Blue crabs begin to shed their hard shells when water temperatures reach 66 to 68 degrees, and along the East Coast, “softies” are blue crabs that have shed their exoskeletons. If they are left in the cool water, their new soft shell will begin to harden, and so catching the crab as soon as they shed their shell allows you to skip the usual tedious task of shelling the crab and gives you the opportunity to eat these delicacies soft shell and all.

I recently went to see soft shell aficionado Bill Livingston of Livingston’s Bulls Bay Seafood in McClellanville, South Carolina. He farms soft shell crabs during the season with more than 60 holding tanks, which during my visit housed more than 7,000 blue crabs. Bill and his crew keep watch over the crabs 24/7 while the crabs are in the tanks so that once the crabs have shed their shells, they are plucked out of the tanks and placed in a tank for softies only.

Try these tasty delights before they’re gone!

Photos by Cameron Colcolough
Photos by Cameron Colcolough

McClellanville Soft Shell Crab Tour

  1. Bill reaches into the tanks full of blue crabs with no hesitation and pulls out a blue crab that is just beginning to molt its hard exterior shell.  The crabs shells begin to crack which is a sure sign that the molting has begun.
  2. Blue crab can increase in size as much as 40% after they leave their old shell. The crabs use hydrolics to shed their old shell, which is a long, exhausting process.
  3. The crabs are packed in boxes lined with parchment paper and local sea grass.
  4. The tour ended over lunch and a fried soft shell crab at T.W. Graham seafood restaurant in McClellanville. With the shrimp docks and soft shell crab farms only blocks away, seafood does not get any fresher than this!