Alaska Snow Crab Legs
Opilio has a rich, sweet, delicate flavor and firm texture. The shoulder meat is tender and the claw meat is firmer. Snow Crab is more fibrous than King Crab.
There are four species that are referred to as Snow Crab, that are also known as Tanner Crabs. The largest is the Bairdi (Chionoecetes bairdi). Tanneri (C. tanneri) are not significant to the market, and Japonicus (C. japonicus) from the Asian side of the North Pacific are sometimes imported as Red Snow Crab. The most common is the Opilio or Queen Crab (C. opilio). Opilio Snow Crab is the most important commercial species of Snow Crab.
Opilio is fished in both the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic. It is found along the Atlantic Canadian Coast and in the Bering Sea and Chucki Sea. It is wild-caught in Alaska, Canada, Korea and Russia. It is a popular crab and tends to be more affordable than other crab species, like King Crab. Female Opilio molt one time after reaching maturity and then stop growing while males molt until they grow a large claw that is characteristic of maturity and reach a larger size than females. Only male Opilio are harvested.
Like all species of Crab, populations vary year to year due to conditions of weather and the water. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® rates Snow Crab from Alaska and Canada as “Good Alternative” because the “North American snow and tanner crab fisheries are well managed, but populations are still recovering from previous overfishing.” The Scotian Shelf and Gulf of St Lawrence Snow Crab Trap Fisheries certified sustainable to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Opilio lives in the colder northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific. It is the only Snow Crab species to be caught in both those oceans. In the Atlantic, it is found in Greenland and from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Maine. In the Pacific, it is found in arctic Alaska to northern Siberia and south in the Bering Sea to Japan and Korea. It lives in depths of less than 650 feet on mud bottoms. It is commercially caught in Alaska, Canada, Korea and Russia and most of the Snow Crab imported into the U.S. is from Canada. Our Snow Crab clusters are caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and off the coast of Northern Quebec, Newfoundland, Cape Bretton, and Nova Scotia.
Opilio is available frozen year-round. The Alaska season begins in January and lasts until March or April depending on when the quota is met and the ice conditions. The season for Atlantic Canada runs April through August with most caught in July.
Opilio is wild-captured with traps. There is no aquaculture of Opilio in the U.S.
The body of Opilio is about as wide as it is long and ranges from brownish to reddish-orange with a yellowish-white below. The legs are white on the bottom and orange on the top. The shell is red when cooked. Snow Crab looks similar to King Crab but is smaller and less red. Also, while the tips of the legs of King Crab point backward, the tips of the legs of Opilio point forward. Females can reach a shell width of just over 3 inches and males can reach about 6 inches. The fishery targets males larger than 3.8 inches and commercially caught Opilio average 1 to 2 pounds. The meat is white with red tinges.
The most common product form is the cluster, which usually consists of 4 legs (one is a very small tailer leg), a claw and the connecting shoulder. Legs are available whole, split or scored (snap and eat). Other cuts include cocktail claws, clusters, and meat (combo, salad, shredded, picked).
Opilio is available already cooked and can be eaten hot or cold. It is versatile and can be steamed, broiled, sautéed, baked, microwave or grilled. It can also be used in dishes like salads and soups.