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Dec 4, 2012 02:06 PM

There are tiny crabs in my oysters! Is this normal?

I just had some of the best seafood I have enjoyed in years, but in two cases I ran into tiny pea crabs in some of my oysters, first time both in steamed and raw oysters and the second time, one was in the raw oysters. I ate the steamed pea crabs and they were pretty good, didn't have the courage to eat the still living, writhing ones in the raw oysters. The oysters themselves seemed pretty good and both the waiter and the people next to me said it was normal, so I wolfed down little steamed crabs the size of peas. Tasty but odd.
Back to my original question, though. Is this normal? The people I talked to said that the crabs were like wrasse fish, they cleaned the gills of the oysters and made them even cleaner. Were they making a virtue out of necessity, i.e. their oysters have pea crabs so they try to make it sound like it is not only normal but a good thing. So are they symbionts or parasites? And does it matter?
Some of you probably know where I ran into these little fellas, but I want to post it here on this board where people don't have their regional pride wrapped up in the issue.

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  1. I don't know if those little critters are good or bad for you, but I personally would not want to be eating them raw in a freshly shucked oyster. I know the stuff that big crabs eat is rather disgusting, regardless of how delicious the end result is.

    I feel you made a good choice in not eating the writhing ones.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mdfoodlover

      if you dont like to think about what crabs eat - how can you even look at an oyster?

      I knwo some guys who were chicken necking once and had a couple of dozen crabs, when the cops came and started dredging for a body near where they were crabing.

      The ate the crabs anyway . . . .circle of life.

      1. re: reiflame

        That is fascinating! Love the article and now I know something new! Thanks

          1. I've experienced those tiny crabs many times, I generally avoid eating them however!!

            6 Replies
            1. re: Hue

              Hue, at the risk of getting this thread mod'ed out of this branch, would you say where you saw them? And how often you would see one in, say 3 dozen oysters? Is it even less frequent than that is most of the Chesapeake Bay?
              I think it is a regional thing, and even though I was less than 300 miles from DC, I saw pea crabs whereas I have never seen them in oysters on the Bay. I will fess up and admit that this is about the Outer Banks/Albemarle Sound area, but I hope the moderators will leave the thread here with Chesapeake Bay oyster fans so I can find out if this is normal just in the Outer Banks or if it happens up here too and the shuckers just get rid of them without my noticing it.
              But Reiflame's article makes me wonder if it happens up here too.
              It didn't affect the flavor, size or appearance of the oysters in any way that I could recognize, and they tasted kind of good steamed, but I couldn't bring myself to eat them live, even though I was eating raw, live oysters at the time.

              1. re: Ziv

                I grew up in the Albemarle sound area, and remember always having tiny crabs in oysters as a kid. We always ate oysters at home, so no intervention from a restaurant. There was always a bit of goading to eat the crab, especially when shucking raw oysters with live crabs! In later years, most of our oysters came from Texas, and did not have crabs,

                1. re: mpjmph

                  mpjmph, thanks for your response, it was exactly what I was looking for. When I first saw the steamed pea crab, I was a bit put off, but the guy at the bar next to me looked at me like I was a bit slow and said something to the effect that 'our oysters are the best in the world and some of them have pea crabs' but I wasn't sure if it was true or if he was helping to put one over on the 'foreigner'. The steamed pea crab was kind of sweet and rich, not sure what to call it.
                  I have had oysters from New York to New Jersey to Delaware to Maryland to Virginia plus Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, and I had never seen a pea crab. I think they must pop up occasionally elsewhere, but the shuckers dispose of them since people are less used to seeing them.

                2. re: Ziv

                  Ziv, I'm a Baltimoron born and bred, and I have seen this with mostly Chincoteague oysters shucked at home. I assume most raw bars would remove any "pea crabs".

                  1. re: Hue

                    After I thought about it, Hue, I kind of figured the shuckers I see (who are usually shucking Chesapeake Bay, Apalachicola or Blue Point oysters) were just kind of flipping the pea crabs to the garbage and I didn't notice it. But it is kind of amusing. I have been eating raw oysters for 30 years and never noticed one of these little guys, but then again, I never shucked my own oysters.

                  2. re: Ziv

                    I just baked a dozen oysters and found tiny crabs inside 4 of them. Not knowing if the crab was eating the oyster or the other way around, I searched the topic and read the 1913 article which explained it all. My fishmonger said the oysters came from NY. It is too hot in NC to get oysters in a month without an "R"

                3. This topic intrigues me. We live on the landlocked prairies where the sea culture is non existent. I did not even realize this occured! Learned something new again today.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chefathome

                    Same here, and I've lived on both coasts for most of my life.... Then again, I don't eat raw oysters or shuck any.