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How to Choose Good Meaty Crab – Step by Step Guide

meaty crab

Choosing the right mud crab for cooking is important. I used to buy mud crab (aka. Scylla Serrata) in wet market near my house. Over the years, i have learned some tricks on how to choose fresh and meaty crab.

Delicious crabs are fresh crabs cooking with the right sauce. Here i list out ways to choose the meaty crab based on my experience.

Check its eyes and body movement

Fresh crab are crab still alive and looks aggressive when you get hold of it. The legs of the crab should be moving, the body is solid and firm.

Another way is crab eyes, make sure they are intact and still moving. This is because the eyes for mud crab is like a pulse for humans. Usually, mosquito like to bite the crab eyes or it was bump into some object during packing or sorting. If the eyes are not moving or look inactive, that mean the crab is weak and may die very soon.

Crab Elbow

Another way to check the freshness of the meaty crab is by pressing the crab elbow. If you press the elbow, it will swell again; it mean inside is solid and meaty.


When choosing meaty crabs, ignore the tendency to choose bright, shiny crabs. Instead, choose crabs with shells that are dull and scratched. You see, the dull and scratched shell shows the crabs are ready to replace the skin (molting to become soft shell crab)  and have dense meat. Normally the crab will feed themselves a lot before molting – Crabs (and other crustaceans) cannot grow in a linear fashion like most animals. Because they have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells, a process called molting. Just as we outgrow our clothing, crabs outgrow their shells. Prior to molting, a crab reabsorbs some of the calcium carbonate from the old exoskeleton, then secretes enzymes to separate the old shell from the underlying skin (or epidermis). Then, the epidermis secretes a new, soft, paper-like shell beneath the old one. This process can take several weeks.


Meaty Crab


Water Crab

Check the claws

Crab has large claws. Check whether the claws are cracked or still sturdy.

Don’t be tempted to choose bright and shiny crabs. Instead crabs with dull shell colors indicate the crabs have solid meat.

Check the right claws that are used to destroy prey, whether blunt or flat toothed. If the toothed is flat, that mean the crab just molted and inside the body is full of water. Looked for blunt toothed – as it use the right claws to crush and destroy prey. It mean the crab has been actively feeding himself and the meat will be solid and full.

Meaty Crab Claw
Empty Crab Claw

Check the bottom

Checking the underside or abdomen of the crab – can determine whether a crab is female or male. When the abdomen shows the grooves forming triangles and spikes, the crabs are males. When tended to be round, then she is a female. You can press the abdomen to test the firmness of the shell. If the crab show blue tinge and the abdomen is soft. It indicates the meat is not full.

Male Crab
Female Crab

Another way to test the crab whether is meaty or not is by pressing the center of the flap with your finger. The meaty crab has a firm, prominent and yellowish stomach. While less meaty crab will have mild stomach with a little blue and bright color.

The meaty crabs are generally heavier if lifted.


Fresh crabs do not emit scents. You shouldn’t buy the crab when it has an unpleasant aroma, even too fishy. Also avoid crab that have ammonia smells.

Fresh crabs have no smell. Avoid ammonia-smelling crabs.

Crabs that smell of taste like ammonia are the result of being older crabs not whether they are a good crab or bad crab. We’re honestly not sure why this is, but that it just can be when dealing with older crabs.

In our own experience with catching and dealing with Mangrove Crab we have come across those ammonia tasting and smelling crabs and found that we just get used to them! It’s not “real ammonia” you are dealing with, but just the smells and tastes of. The best way to tow it down is to deal with them in the boiling process. We steamed the crab for 15 minutes and add minced onion and other herbs as well as the Sea Salts to aide in over riding the smells and flavors of ammonia.


When shopping for crabs, choose crabs that are placed in a dry place. When the crab is stored in a container filled with water, the crabs will move more, and the possibility of the meat inside is not too dense.

Choose crabs that are stored in a dry place. The crabs in the water tank use more energy and lose meat faster. Ask the seller when the meaty crab is caught. Ideally the crabs must be cooked within two days after catching.

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Mangrove Crab’s Story from Bintuni Bay, West Papua

mangrove crab

Mangrove crabs (Scylla Serrata) are one of the favorite menus among seafood lovers. Mangrove crabs are listed as the leading fisheries commodity in Indonesia. The demand for culinary one continues to increase, both in the domestic and foreign markets.

Bintuni Bay Regency – one of the mangrove crab producing areas in Indonesia has around ± 260 thousand hectares of mangrove forest. It covers 10% of the total area of mangrove forest in Indonesia. The increase in demand for mangrove crabs has triggered excessive capture in their habitat.


“In terms of the number of crabs caught lately, it seems that it has not been so different from 1996/1997, but seeing the size of the crabs is getting smaller,” said Suriyanto, one of the crab fishermen in Bintuni Bay.

Catching mangrove crabs in Bintuni Bay, especially in the Ausoy Banjar Village is dominated by small fishing fleets measuring under 10 GT (Gross Ton). By using a 15 PK outboard engine (Paarden Kracht / Horsepower), mangrove crab fishermen can carry out fishing activities for up to three consecutive days at the target location, then return to the mainland or fishing base.


Bubu Kotak

The fishing gear used is a trap, a trap made from nets specifically made to catch crabs. There are 2 types of trap used by fishermen in Kampung Banjar Ausoy, namely “bubu kotak” and “wadong” (round shape).

The difference between the two fishing gear are the shape, frame material used. For box trap using an iron frame, while the “wadong” uses thinned bamboo then formed into a circle. In one fishing trip, Kampung Banjar Ausoy fishermen can carry up to 80 units of “bubu”, which will later be distributed on the fishing grounds. Within a month, on average fishermen carry out fishing activities at least 4 trips, with catches of ± 400 kg to 1 tonne.

Sustainability of Mangrove Crab Practices

Regulation of the Minister of Marine Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia Number 56 Year 2016 stated conditions for catching mangrove crabs are:

  1. Female crab withoutlaying eggs.
  2. Carapace widths above 15 cm or weighing above 200 grams per

Based on the above regulations, this is certainly a challenge for fisheries businesses from fishermen level to the entrepreneur / industry level. They have to carried out business practices in accordance with applicable rules and regulations.

In Banjar Ausoy Village, normally crab fishermen will release their catch back to their habitat if they get a size below 200 grams.

Fishermen rarely take small-sized crabs (under 200 grams) as local exporters will not buy crabs at that size as well.

WWF-Indonesia – the Project implementing partner of USAID Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced (USAID SEA) encourages improvement in fisheries practices as a form of commitment in sustainable fisheries management.

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Soft Shell Crab Cultivation Challenges

Soft Shell Crab Cultivation
Farmers are not interested in soft shell crab cultivation in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.
The reasons are price dropping and limited size for exports due to new regulation set by the local maritime authorities.

Soft shell crab are the name for mangrove crabs. Their entire body is soft due to the replacement of shells, claws, and feet.

Currently only left 3 soft shell crab farmers in Balipapan compared 8 before.

“Many left soft shell crab cultivation industry.” said Syamsudin. He is one of the soft shell crab farmers who survived in Teritip Village, Balikpapan Timur.

Syamsudin only cultivated 1 ton of soft shell crab monthly compared 3-4 tons a month before.

Hong Kong and China, like soft shell crabs with sizes below 120 grams.

According Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Circular Letter Number 18 of 2015. Catching lobster, crab, and blue crabs must meet the standard weight size of at least 150 grams and above. Those below 150g grams are not allowed to export outside Indonesia.

Reasons of soft shell crab cultivation drop.

Soft shell crab farming has narrowed. Syamsudin is fortunate enough to harvest 200 to 300 kilograms of soft crab per month.

Foreign markets are not interested in the size of 150 grams and above.

They like the small one, 80-120 grams. Due to supply more than demand. The price drop and affected the soft shell crab farmers.

soft crab pond

Challenges faced by local crab farmers.

Farmers who are unable to survive will switch to other businesses. They stuck in high rent cost and forced to go out of business.

Tarman is now opening a dug well whose water is flowing into neighboring houses. Yadi, another farmer, also switched professions. He rented a small kiosk on the edge of town and sold birds at the kiosk. “He brought in birds from Java and sold them there.

Syamsuddin claimed to have survived the soft crab business despite a tough situation. Now he only have one worker working for him compare to 3 workers before.

His business was successful with the production of 200 kilograms of crab every day. Now production continues to shrink to 300 kg per month due to price reduced.

The price of soft shell crabs, which last year was Rp. 120,000-Rp. 130,000 per kilogram, a few months now dropped to Rp. 65,000 per kilogram.

However, Syamsudin will continue to survive the business he initiated since 2006. Now he has owned the farm.

After all, he said, three of the four children were independent. Family expenses are not as big as before.

“The farmers who rent the land suffered the most. Because the rental is very high” Syamsudin said.

Indonesia Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency

Balikpapan Head of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency M Yosmianto acknowledged that the inconvenience of the soft shell crab business in the period of adjustment since the enactment of Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Regulation No. 1/2015. He said, the current pond production is large soft shell crab, different from  market expectations that want below 120 grams.

According to Yosmianto, the enactment of the regulation actually triggered the smuggling of crabs via land. “We only succeeded in preventing inter-island interference. But the land is difficult,” he said.

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Soft Shell Crab Farming

soft shell crab cultivation


Soft Shell Crab cultivation is a business opportunity that bring good profits. Therefore soft shell crab is getting more and more popular as we can eat all parts of its body.
Eating crab is easier as no need to scrape the hard crab shells to pick up the meat.
The mud crab / mangrove crab (Scylla serrata) has five pairs of legs. the first pair of legs are claws; the others are legs for walking and the last pair is for swimming in the sea.
Successful soft shell crab cultivation depend on few criteria:
1. Pollution Free Land
2. Good Management
3. Superior Juvenile

There are several kinds of mangrove crabs:

  1. Scylla Oceanica: Body color is greenish and has a brown line in almost all parts of his body, except in the stomach.
  2. Scylla Serrata: Body color – greenish to grayish.
  3. Scylla Transquebarica: Body color greenish to blackish. A little brown line on the legs.

Scylla Serrata size is smaller and has higher market demand compare the others two.

Mud Crab Molting Its Shell

Mud Crab Molting Shell

Business Opportunities of Soft Shell Crab Farming

The demand for soft crab is increasing. Especially if our surrounding has the right environmental situation to breed the crabs.
Soft crab cuisine is not so popular in Chinese or Malay restaurants. But getting more and more younger generations like to eat this type of seafood.
In Malaysia, Soft shell crab is available through out Japanese restaurants. They either served with sushi or deed fried.
Some of the Thai restaurants served the soft shell crab with green curry or mix in “Songtam” – mango salad.
It is not easy to breed soft shell crab. We need to learn the techniques of crab cultivation in a proper manner.

Farming Soft Shell Crab Preparation

Below, we will discuss how to cultivate soft shell crab and tips that make it successful.

1. Choose the Right Location

a. A clean, clear and uncontaminated location with a salinity level of 15 to 35 ppt.
b. Water temperature of 24 to 32 degrees Celsius.
c. Dissolve oxygen of 3 ppm and a water pH of 6.5 to 8.5.
Most importantly the farm is located in the vicinity of growing mangrove plants. The environment in terms of temperature and water is most suitable for the growth of mud crab.
Generally pond land used is sandy mud. While the depth of the pond should not be less than 80 cm.
Traditional ponds that used to breed milkfish or shrimp are suitable as well.

2. Prepare the Equipment

Tools needed for the cultivation of soft shell crabs:
a. Thermometer,
b. PH meter
c. Test kits to measure water quality.

3. Juvenile Selection


Juvenile suitable to cultivate into soft shell crab is weight around 0.1 ounces to 0.5 ounces.

4. Create a Cage for Soft shell Crabs

soft shell crab cultivation
a. Cage – form of boxes with the size of 15 cm x 15 cm x 20 cm.
b. Boxes put on top the pond surface.
c. Create a road made of bamboo between the order boxes to assist farmers to observe the soft shell crab when they change the skins.

Techniques on Soft Shell Crab Farming

Breeding soft crab is easy, but it takes special skill and experience to do it.
a. We need to understand the technique of breeding soft crab before practicing it.
b. Cutting is the process of farming the soft shell crab. Cutting the legs and claws of Juvenile crab is to stimulate the crab going into molting stage.
solf shell crab molting
We put the crab Juvenile into the cages after cutting their legs and claws. Then immerse it into the pond.
The process of cutting until harvest will only last for 14 days.
If it is too long then the shell that has entered the softening stage can be harden again.
We use shellfish, trash fish and pellets to feed soft shell crabs. We chopped the shellfish and trash fish into smaller pieces before feeding the crab.

Tips on Caring and Harvest Soft Shell Crab

Successful of crab survival and molting very depend on water circulation. If the water circulation is not good, many crab will dies.
We can spread anti-pest drugs into the water to control the pest from eating the crabs.
During harvest period, we pick up soft shell crabs from the box. We choose one by one and separate the good and reject one, then soak them in fresh water for 30 minutes. After that, we will pack them one by one in plastic bag and frozen it live.
Below is a video on our packing of live soft shell crab.

Success Tips and Marketing Strategies

Always keep the quality of soft crabs, separate between the good quality and the less good in order to make sure consumers are not disappointed when getting less good soft shell crab.
For soft shell crab that quality is less good we can sell at lower price.

Preparation for Cooking: How to Clean Soft Shell Crab