A guide to shore crabbing
by ilurbtamban and alibaba


Crabbing in Singapore has been popular activity alongside with angling, it was more apparent during the early days of Singapore where many coastal areas were not developed and many crabs can be found in estauries and mangrove swamps. It is a form of trapping unlike angling where you try to hit a fish on a hook, there's a lot of patience and preparation work involved in crabbing. Serious crabbers trek into mangrove swamps to deploy traps which can be dirty and strenous business. But at the end of the day, the catches can be rewarding for all that hardwork.

Two main species of crabs of interest to crabbers are the Flower Crab and the Mud Crab. Mud Crabs are commonly along shores in the intertidal zone, and favours swampy areas and brackish waters while Flower Crabs extend to deeper waters. For information and identification of the common species of crabs that can be caught in Singapore, refer to the following page:

A Mangrove swamp during low tide.

Mangrove roots are common hiding places for crabs.


Types of traps

There are basically two types of crab traps you can find locally. First is the Bento Trap, it's a simple trap compose of a square net held open on two piece of crossed canes. The bait is held from the intersection of the cane (which is also the centre of the net). When a crab reaches for the bait, it will naturally end up in the net. This form of trapping requires periodical retrieve to check if there's a crab in the net because given time, the crab can crawl out of the trap when it finishes the bait or should it decides to leave. The primary function of the net is to entangle and slow down the crab from escaping.

A typical Bento type trap

The second type of trap is a Cage Trap. This cage usually comes in rectangular or dome shape with two concave entrance on its sides. It has a bait pouch that hangs from the centre of the trap. Once a crab enters the trap, it is virtually impossible for it to get out due to the shape of cage opening. This trap also has a tendency to trap fishes such as catfish, rabbitfish, filefish and scats.

A cage trap with two openings for crabs to enter from both sides.

A larger type of cage trap.

Cages collapsed for ease of transportation.


Baits for crabbing

Mud crabs and swimming crabs are carnivorous and although they hunt for food, they are opportunistic scavengers most of the time. They'll eat any meat they find be it fish, squids or molluscs. The common bait to use for crabbing is fish, usually the front half of an ungutted fish is good. The guts of the fish should be exposed water to disperse the scent to attract crabs in the vicinity. If you're using an entire fish, give it a few light cuts on its body to expose the flesh as well.

Common types of fishes you may like to try are Sea Bream (Kerisi), Scads (Selar/Kembong/Batu), parts of Shark or Rays. Any other types of meat are also fine, though not commonly used. You need to secure the baits proper with a string if necessary to prevent a crab running away with your bait.


Crabbing places and preparation

The first common place for crabbers to look for crabs would be at jetties. Jetties provides an instant reach out to deeper water from shore where traps can be directly dropped. A popular jetty for crabbing is the Sembawang Jetty, flower crabs can be caught there everyday though the size are usually small. Occasionally, you may encounter mud crabs or larger flower crabs. Other places you can try crabbing are Changi Kelong Walk, Sungei Api Api, West Coast Park, Sungei Pandan and Sungei Changi.

Crabbing at Sembawang Jetty

For a typical crabbing trip, you'll need to bring:

- your desired number of traps
- rope for each trap
- a pail to keep the crabs
- air pump if you want to keep the crabs alive in water
- a pair of long nose pliers to handle crabs
- rafia string or cable ties to tie up the crabs

The types and number of traps to bring may depend on the type of place you're going. If it's a jetty or seawall whereby your traps are easily accessible, bento traps might be more suitable and you can afford to bring more because they're more compact compared to the caged types. If you're deploying traps in mangrove areas where you won't be checking your traps regularly, it'll make more sense to use a cage trap.


Crabbing business

Spring tides are usually the best times to go crabbing and crabs are especially active when the tide is coming in. That's when they come out to forage. Once your Bento Traps are deployed, you should wait 10 to 15 minutes before checking up on them. If you're getting crabs on every check, you can gradually reduce the waiting times. For Cages, traps need not be checked as regularly as the Bento trap because it's not easy for the crabs to find its way out. A waiting time of 20 to 30 minutes is recommendated.

Once you get a crab in your trap, you first want to get the crab away from the water(especially for Bento) incase the crab breaks loose and scuttle back into the sea. Hold the crab from the back of its carapace using 3 fingers (thumb, index and middle finger as shown in the picture below) on one hand and proceed to untangle the crab from the netting using a long nose pliers using the other hand, taking note the reach of their claws.

Holding the crab within the safety zone. (out of the claws' reach)

Continue to hold the crab on one hand and pin down the crab on the floor, holding it down using your shoe. Make sure the crab is securely pinned down before releasing your hand. Take a piece of cable tie and close it to make the biggest loop. Carefully move the loop into the elbow of the claws until it reaches its pincers. Lock its upper and lower claw together by slowly tightening the loop using a pair of long nose pliers. Take extra precaution of the other claw that is still free. Once the first claw is securely locked, proceed to lock the second claw.

Here's a video you can follow through on tying a crab.

Once the crab is 'disarmed' you can put them in a pail, keeping them away from the sun and any heat sources. For flower crabs, you need to give them water to keep them alive as they're full aquatic crabs. They won't survive well without water unless the temperature is very cool. Aeration or frequent change of seawater is needed. Mud crabs on the other hand can stay out of water for long periods of time but they require atmosphere to be cool and damp. Soak a cloth with seawater and cover over them in the pail. Alternatively, you can keep the crabs alive by lowering them back into the water within a keepnet till you're ready to go back.

Crabs kept in water with aeration

Keeping crabs in a keepnet.


Safety and Etiquette

Crabbing results are often associated with the number of traps deployed. As such, typical crabbers will usually take up quite a bit of space on a fishing ground when they deploy their traps. While this is understandable, crabbers should learn to limit their usage of space and respect other anglers' fishing space.

Crabbing from bridges is also commonly seen. While it's a convenient way to deploy traps, it can cause serious hazards to boats passing through from below. Crabbers and anglers should refrain from fishing on such bridges for the safety of boaters and their passengers.

Crabbing from a bridge where boats pass by from below is dangerous.

last update 10 Oct 11