Provision of crab shelters


As noted in the previous section, peeler and soft shell crabs take shelter during these vulnerable moulting stages. In areas where there are no or few natural shelters for these crabs, particularly on sediment shores and in estuaries, anglers and commercial collectors place artificial shelters on the shore to attract moulting crabs. These shelters may consist of roofing tiles, field drains, or car tyres placed onto the shore. They are either laid on top of firm sediment, or embedded at an angle into softer muddy sediments, so that the crabs can burrow underneath. They are called crab ‘shelters’ in this document because they actually operate as shelters, giving free access and egress to shore crabs. Most collectors, however, call them crab ‘traps’ even though they do not function as fishing gear by preventing the escape of the prey species.

Setting crab shelters appears to have started in the south-western estuaries, where the mild climate provides the longest season for collection of moulting crabs, but is now spreading all over the country. Very few studies have been carried out of this activity, but Godden (1995) suggested that numbers had grown from none to 8,750 traps at Plymouth, and increased 10-fold in the Exe and Teign estuaries. A few years later, the Tamar Estuaries Bait Collection Working Group (1998) gives an estimate of some 20,000 crab ‘traps’ within the Tamar Estuaries (Tamar, Plym, Lynher and Tavy). Of these, some 8,000 are used on a commercial basis with the 70% of the crab collected being sold elsewhere in the UK at a price of about 50 p each (suggesting that the commercial yield from this area is worth some 40,000-50,000). This estimate implies that 8,000 of these shelters actually belong to the commercial collectors who placed them on the shore and are actively using them. In reality, since these shelters are not fishing gear there is no right of ownership unless placed with the permission of the landowner and licensed by them. Any angler or commercial crab collector has the right to search for crabs under any crab shelter, natural or artificial, placed on the shore. Additionally, the landowner or leaseholder of the shore, or other competent agency (e.g. harbour authority) may remove these shelters if found to have been laid without permission.

Impacts of crab shelters on fauna, habitat and other shore users

Opportunities for mitigating the impacts of crab shelters used for bait collection