Deadliest Catch: As opilio crab season begins, tensions rise

The Deadliest Catch fleet is ready to get started on opilio crab this week, and fans may be wondering: Just what is an opilio crab, anyway?

America’s favorite crab fishing fleet is ready to get going on opilio crab after finishing up a severely limited king crab season. But, what exactly are opilio crabs?

An opilio crab is a variety of snow crab, World Aquaculture explains. The snow crab is known by four Latin names: Chionoecetes hairdi, C. tanneri, C. japonicus and C. opilio. Snow crabs are members of the spider crab family, and some can grow up to five pounds in weight and two feet in length. The opilio crab is the smallest of the four varieties, growing up to only two pounds, Ocean Beauty Seafood indicates. The bodies are large in comparison to its four pairs of legs, which are often described as “spindly.” The opilio crab also has two claws. The body is typically reddish-orange, while the legs are orange on top and white on the bottom side. During years of king crab shortages, World Aquaculture says, the snow crab C. hairdi, which typically weighs twice as much as an opilio crab, is sometimes substituted for king crab. The opilio crab is also called the “queen crab."

In Alaska, the opilio season opens in January, and the season goes until the quota is caught. This typically takes about one month, Ocean Beauty Seafood says. The crab, as Deadliest Catch viewers will know, is caught in pots, and are usually baited with herring.

Production of the snow crab, World Aquaculture explains, is cyclical, as it is with many species. In other words, the snow crab will rise in numbers over a few years, then numbers will begin to decline. After hitting a low, the numbers will once again begin to increase.

“Opilio crab markets can fluctuate wildly due to catch quotas and international market prices,” Ocean Beauty Seafood explains. “In times of good availability and low prices, opilio clusters are a mainstay in domestic food service business. When catch is short and international markets boost up the price, it can all but disappear.”

Deadliest Catch Opilio Crab Season Begins

Opilio crab season begins on Deadliest Catch tonight, when the latest episode, “Nowhere to Go but Down,” premieres on the Discovery Channel at 9 p.m. E/P. Opilio crab quota is up and prices are high, but so are tensions, leading to one deckhand quitting, two brothers fighting, and someone going overboard.

UPDATE: Deadliest Catch fleet takes good with bad to start opilio season

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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