You see them just about everywhere, those pink and white knobby claws stretched out on a bed of ice. When it comes to crab legs, Alaskan king crab are … well … king.
But what you see in the supermarket may not be what you think. The truth is, there isn’t just one king crab, and yours may not be from Alaska.
“Only king crab caught in Alaska can legally be called Alaskan king crab.”
The World of King Crabs
King crabs live and breed all over the world, from Russia to Japan to South America, with over 40 known species.
Within Alaska alone, there are three commercially viable species: the red king, blue king, and golden king. The “king” name appears to have brought them all together, due to their size, but each is distinct and takes residence in a different part of the ocean off the Alaskan coast.
The most prized is the large and delicious red king, found in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound. It can weigh up to 24 pounds, and its legs can span over 5 feet.
A close second is a slightly smaller blue king, which is found in deeper waters. But since the blue king turns red when cooked, most consumers can’t tell the difference. The smallest of the three, the golden king, has the mildest flavor and tends to sell for less.
The same species is caught commercially all over the world, but “Only king crab caught in Alaska can legally be called Alaskan king crab,” says Jim Donahue of UniSea, one of Alaska’s largest crab processors and exporters.
“The same species harvested in Russia or Norway is commonly called king crab in the U.S. market. In turn, only king crab caught in Russia could be legally called Russian king crab.”
Imported king crab is often called Alaskan king crab because many people think that’s the actual name of the species. But 75 percent of the king crab sold in the U.S. is imported from Russia, where the crabs are caught using unsustainable fishing practices, and much of the meat is mislabeled and brought into the U.S. illegally, according to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund.
Two hundred fishermen in Southeast Alaska will share a record $16.3 million paydays for the Dungeness crab they hauled up from combined summer and winter fisheries, which just wrapped up last month.
Crabbers fishing primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell landed 5.3 million pounds of dungies for the season, the third-highest catch and at an average $3.07 per pound, the most valuable ever.
Meanwhile, some grim news about dunes has surfaced that reveals the impacts of increased ocean acidity on the crab.
Results from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in California showed for the first time that corrosive conditions of coastal waters affected portions of the fragile, still-developing shells and legs of tiny, post-larval Dungeness crabs, leaving telltale features such as abnormal ridging structures and scarred surfaces.Other