Seafood is one of the most expensive food options available today. If you are a fan of crab, you probably know how hard it is to find authentic crab meat at a reasonable cost.
In 2019, a single snow crab was sold for $46,000 at an auction in Tottori, Japan, becoming the most expensive crab ever sold.
Crab is usually sold in three forms: whole crab, crab meat, or crab legs. Of these, crab legs are often the most expensive.
Crab legs are so expensive because crabs are difficult to catch. Once caught, they are highly perishable. Most crab types can also only be harvested within a very short season. Separating the crab legs is also a labor-intensive process, which further drives up costs. Depending on the type of crab, harvesting them can be dangerous.
1. Crabs Are Hard To Catch
Crabs can be very tricky to harvest. First, they usually have to be caught in small numbers at a time.
Secondly, most crab pots are designed to only hold a few crabs at a time, and each pot must be checked often for quality control and to meet certain regulations.
Third, catching crabs can be a rather dangerous job for fishermen. They also have to commit to carefully checking the crab pots daily, which means long hours and almost no time off during the crab-catching season.
On top of all this, most states have strict regulations about how crabs can be caught and how they need to be handled after being caught, which throws another spanner in the works.
Once the crabs are caught, they have to be further processed to remove the legs and package them, ready for consumption. Together, all these things significantly drive up the cost of crab legs.
What’s worse, in years when the crab population is affected and there are few crabs (which has been happening more and more recently due to climate change), the fishermen need to charge even more because of the affected supply.
2. Crab Legs Are Highly Perishable
Like most shellfish, crabs are highly perishable and start to deteriorate as soon as they are taken out of the sea.
Crab legs will not last long after being harvested. For this reason, they have to be stored in a special way to prevent them from going bad before getting to the grocery store.
This is why it is almost impossible to buy fresh crab legs if you do not live near a coastal area.
Crab legs are usually frozen and stored in preparation for transportation to grocery stores.
This usually takes a while, and within that time, any exposure to warm temperatures will make the entire batch go bad.
Additionally, when you buy crab legs at the store, you have to use them as soon as you can after purchase.
Crab legs can last two to four days in the refrigerator and about two to four hours when left at room temperature once thawed.
Being this perishable is one of the main reasons why crab legs have to go through an extensive process before getting to the store shelves, which drives up the cost.
3. Required Labor
Crab legs require a lot of labor to obtain. From catching the crab to harvesting the legs, there is a lot of manpower that goes into getting them.
As explained, the fishing process requires close monitoring of the crab pots, then sorting them by hand for sale.
Everything has to be done by hand by crabbers using specialized tools, driving the labor costs even higher.
Additionally, because crab legs have to be removed from the crabs, you end up having more people handling the product. The higher the number of people involved, the pricier crab legs become.
The only way to drive this cost down is to do it yourself.
However, there is a steep learning curve to it and it will take a lot of time just to get and prepare a few crab legs, which is why their cost will not go down any time soon.
4. Strict Crab Harvesting Regulations
Different types of crabs have different regulations determining how they can be caught and how their crab legs can be processed. The more strict these regulations are, the more expensive the crab legs end up being.
For some crabs, the regulations include how large the crabs can be. Selling crabs that are below the size limit is prohibited.
For others, fishermen are only allowed to take one crab claw before releasing the crab back into the water with the other claw still attached.
Other regulations limit the number of crabs that can be harvested at a time.
Plus, these regulations will be different depending on the state in which the crabs are harvested. This drives the price of crab legs up.
5. Crab Legs Are Expensive To Ship
Because they are perishable, shipping crab legs is a difficult process. It takes a lot of resources to get crabs from the sea to your table.
The process of transportation costs a lot of money and time because they have to be shipped in temperature-controlled trucks over long distances.
The longer the distance the crab legs have to travel to get to your table, the more expensive they will be.
6. The Type Of Crab
Different crab legs are sold differently.
According to Quality Seafood Delivery, king crab legs are the most expensive because king crabs have a short harvesting season, are not readily available, and are significantly tastier than other species.
Fishing for king crabs is also quite dangerous.
Other high-priced crab legs include snow crab and stone crab. Blue crabs, on the other hand, have a long harvesting season and are much smaller than king crabs and snow crabs. This makes blue crab legs less expensive.
7. Supply And Demand
The supply of crab legs across the country is relatively low. Crab legs do not typically line the shelves at grocery stores.
On the other hand, demand for crab legs is quite high. People love them because they taste great without having the typical fish taste that most other seafood has.
This creates a situation where crab legs are a delicious food that a lot of people love but are quite hard to come by.
Because they are so difficult to get, you have to pay a pretty penny to enjoy them, which begins to explain why they are so expensive.
The price of crab legs will vary depending on your location in the country. If you live closer to the coast, you will likely pay a more reasonable price for your crab legs than someone who lives further inland.
This is because the retail price of crab legs factors in the shipping and labor costs, which increase the further the destination is from the source.
9. You Also Pay For The Shell
Typically, most people buy crab legs by the pound. However, when the crab legs are weighed, both the shell and the meat within the shell are weighed.
This is because there is no way to separate the shell from the meat. So when you buy crab legs at a certain weight, the shell accounts for a significant portion of that weight even though it will never be eaten.
Because of this, the cost of the crab meat that is within the shell is significantly higher.
10. Short Crabbing Season
Crabbing is controlled by strict regulations that ensure the crab population is not depleted by overharvesting.
These regulations combined with weather patterns help determine when fishermen can harvest crabs, which is called crabbing season.
In some areas, the crabbing season only lasts a few months. When the water temperature goes up or down, or when the population of mature crabs is reduced, the fishermen have to stop harvesting.
This keeps the supply low and the price of crab legs relatively high.
Crab legs are expensive because of a large number of reasons. Harvesting crabs is a difficult, often dangerous job. The crabs themselves are quite perishable, and the harvesting season for crabs is very short.
If you live inland, the cost of shipping the crab legs to your location also further drives up the final price. The more you understand the crabbing business, the more you realize just how justified the high price tag is.