Illustrations by Chris Van Dusen
Images Courtesy of Seafood Business Magazine

   Latin: Chionoecetes opilio; C.hairdi, C. tanneri, C. japonicus

French: Crabe

German: Kurzschwanz-krebs

Spanish: Cangrejo

Russian: Krab streegoon

Japanese: Zuwaigani


The market name of snow crab applies to four species, the Latin names of which are listed above. The snow crab is a member of the spider crab family. Snow crabs can grow to about 2.5 kg (5 lbs) and 60 cm (2 ft) in length. C. opilio is also know as queen crab. C. hairdi, which is twice as large as C. opilio has been substituted for king crab during the years of king crab shortage. The C. hairdi are also known as tanner crabs.


Commercial Aspects

  Exporting Countries
United States, Canada, Russia, Japan

Primary Consumers
United States, Russia, Canada, Japan


Production Trends

Diet/Health Info

As with many species snow crab production is cyclical. Production will increase for several years then decrease only to increase again after reaching a low. For the most part, production has remained stable for Alaskan Opilio production since 1994 following a peak in 1991 and a subsequent decline until 1994. Catches in Alaskan Opilio are expected to increase as many new young crabs are growing to harvestable age. Tanner crabs are on the opposite side of this cycle and are expected to decline for the next several years.


 The Global Supply


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46 Responses to WHAT IS AN OPILIO CRAB?

  1. leigh ann says:

    them there things are tasty lil buggers

  2. Sonny says:

    I love your show and would love to get my son a jacket. Is that possible?
    Thank you!

  3. rita miller says:

    How do the crabs get into the pots and how come they can’t escape?

  4. opilia says:

    Hi Rita. There’s a hole on one side of the pot. The crabs can crawl in to get to the bait but they can’t crawl back out again because of the web on the inside of the pot. The web is like an inner lining. It’s stretched inward in a conical type of shape so that the crab can slip in, but not out. Hope that helps.

  5. pauline cartwright says:


  6. opilia says:

    I would contact the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute branch of the UK. Here is the link, there’s a contact name at the bottom of the screen:

  7. Joe Dawson says:

    So that’s what ‘ofeelio’ is! I didn’t realize what a ‘cult’ is growing around this show. We were on a vacation in Alaska and met people from several states who watch every show (even the reruns!!!). Back home in California, we intentionally ask people and “Deadliest Catch” is very popular here, too…. strange.

  8. David says:

    Just wondering what the opilio crab are used for?

  9. opilia says:

    Opilio are snow crabs. We eat them!

  10. Angie says:

    I enjoy watching the show. It makes my job as a nurse in the hospital setting look like a luxury job. Whenever I want to complain about my job, I think to what these brave men do to put a little crab on the dinner plate.

  11. Teresa says:

    I absolutely love watching the show and even have my children hooked. I am wrapping up an oceanography course and have two papers write, after watching the two day marathon of the show I decided to write my papers on the show it’s self and the opilio crab and just cant get enough. By the way my son is looking to spend a few months on one of the fishing boats any suggestions as to how he can do so.

  12. Dave says:

    I enjoy the Deadliest Catch series. I applaud the men , and woman who work the boats.

  13. lzdepski says:

    I worked this area in the early ’70s to make money to attend UofA Fairbanks……….I worked the canneries and for a brief time a tender boat that on the side worked king crab…………all that you see on the deadliest catch is real……and most difficult is left off the air..it can be scarey, but the long hours, the focus on the catch and the amazing bonding w/coworkers is live changing……not least to mention the good pay at the end of the season. LZ

  14. nancy says:

    I enjoy the show. I do love eating crabs and have a greater respect for the crabbers. I don’t even mind paying the price for them any more

  15. db says:

    What happened to the Maverick and Blake???

  16. don says:

    how do you avoid catching king crabs when you fish for opilio?

  17. opilia says:

    Don, they’re not fished in the same exact areas or depths. King crab is typically fished 90-200 deep (according to the State of AK Fish & Game info), and Opilio is fished deeper and further north.

  18. ekw says:

    How do the camera crew get the shots of the crabbing boats going through heavy seas? The camera has to be on another boat, right? Why isn’t that boat pitching and yawing like the crabbing boats? Why are those shots so steady? I don’t mean the cameras that are attached to the crabbing boats’ rigging, I get that, I just don’t understand how the shots of the boats – seeming like they are 50 feet or so off the bows of the crabbing boats – are so steady during those storms.

  19. opilia says:

    There are cameramen on other boats, ekw. There’s featured boats and chase boats. This last season, the Sea Star was used as the main chase boat since Capt Larry Hendricks leases out his quota these days and I imagine they’re pitching just as much although they’re not hauling a couple hundred pots so that much help a bit!

  20. Dawn says:

    As always you are a wealth of information.
    Thanks for all you do.

  21. Rochelle says:

    Good info, Opilia, especially king vs opilio fishing difference. Any place we can see images of the two together? (Other than buying at the local grocery store.) Thanks!

  22. I’m confused. Are Opilio and Tanner and *B*airdi (did someone use an *h* by mistake when identifying this species) one and the same crab??

    If not, can anyone describe the differences?



  23. Ryan says:

    Why is it that they seem to catch females and young crab together whole pots at a time? Do they move in different groups than the adult males?

  24. Bill says:

    how long are the various crab seasons that the boats are out fishing? also i see a big payout to the deckhands. what does their tour of duty consist of that earns them this money?

  25. lashon perry says:

    Hello to everyone, I really love your show watch every show and repeats too, I would like to know how I can but some of the regular crab (NOT KING crab) I think it would be the Opilio crabs the smaller one. Please email me.

  26. Andrew says:

    We see the deckhands getting paid. How much do the greenhorns get?

  27. Westcoyne says:

    Opilio crab are sold as ‘Snow Crab’. If you check some of the websites for Deadliest Catch boats, or the D. C. website, most list contacts in their Links for buying crab. Be careful when buying in your local store, as much of that crab comes from Russia. Why, I don’t know… The frozen crab will be pre-cooked and so needs only warming up in a microwave with just a little water. I like mine with fresh squeezed lemon juice and butter to dip the crab meat into. Yum!
    As for why they seem to catch pots full of either big males (keepers!!) or females and juveniles (NOT keepers) was explained by one of the skippers in a clip on the Discovery Channel Catch website. The crabs travel as a sort of strung out herd or ‘bio-mass’. Big males in the lead, then the smaller females and juveniles trailing along behind as the crab migrate around in search of food. Figuring out which crab have been caught, and then what direction they are going in keeps the Captains guessing.
    The amount a deck hand makes depends on the size of the quota his boat is permitted to catch, whether that quota is actually caught (no crab, no check!), how long it takes to catch that quota (think fuel costs for the boat) and how much of that catch is still live when it arrives at the processors. At the end of each season, the show has said how much the deckhands of each boat made. Greenhorns too.

  28. Nadjadee says:

    I understand the quota was put in place to keep crab fishing a little safer. But why do the fishing boats get fined for going over their limit? In Season 3, I remember one boat was well under their limit and they paid for it by not getting…er paid. It seems harsh that they have to guess how much crab they have in their tanks.

    Why can’t fish and game allow the boats to fish for their quota, and then if they are over their limit, those crabs have to be taken back out to sea and released?

  29. Westcoyne says:

    Hi Nadjadee!
    The quotas are set by Fish & Game to ensure that the crab stocks are not depleted by overfishing. Any captain who dies not have his crew keep him up on how much crab has actually been caught can expected to pay for his ignorance. Too many crabs nets a fine, too little eats into the boat’s profit.
    Why not return the excess? Simple- the expense as expressed in fuel to run the boats. Those boats travel hundreds of miles in frigid weather in hurricane force wind. Returning excess catch is too expensive. Not to mention that the crab start to die after awhile. Saying something is a ‘dead loss’ is not figurative to the crab boats. The dead crabs are worthless except for fertilizer, and do not earn the crabbers any money.

  30. Rumbarr says:

    Hiyas ! Great show and a new found respect for what you all do.

    I have 2 questions

    How much food and fresh water is brought along/how long can you stay out there ?

    How much actual sack time does a deck hand get in a 24 hour period ?

    Thanks !

  31. DougieFresh says:

    Love the Show, you guys cracked me up on Cash cab too.
    we watch religiously from sunny southern California..
    My question is…is anything else edible on the crab besides the legs and claws?

    anytime any of you are in OC email me and i will show ya the town…Duck Farts and all!!

  32. SteveinCMH says:

    [i]Kurzschwanz-krebs[/i] in German? Might as well call them “Poor fell-i-ows.” An alternate German sounding name could be “Needsenzyte.”


  33. Lisa says:

    Like Angie, I also enjoy the show and have developed a new appreciation for the King Crab legs and snow crabs I dearly love to eat! I’m also a nurse and I agree that these guys’ jobs make mine look like a walk in the park! Now I don’t mind paying the high prices for their bounty, either! God Bless and comfort those who lost their loved ones on the Big Valley and in other tragedies suffered during this difficult season. I like the idea of that guy’s wife working as the cook for those guys on the Maverick. I imagine that her home-cooked meals are greatly appreciated and I think it would be a wonderful addition to all the boats. You know the guys get a balanced meal and they don’t have to worry about cooking after a hard day’s work!



  35. Berta says:

    When you are fishing in Jan. for Opilio Crab, Where are the opilio crab in other months? Can you fish for opilio crab anytime of the year?

  36. Jess says:

    Keep it up boys. Love watching you. So doeas my wife.

  37. liz says:

    I love your show and have an enormous crush on Jonathan. My question is how can you tell the difference between a female and a male crab?

  38. Mark says:

    The main difference between a female and a male is the triangle shaped breast plate underneath the crab. On the males it’s long and narrow. On the female it’s shorter and much wider. It’s very easy to tell the difference at a glance when fishing for them.

    Hope that helps.

  39. Deb in GA says:

    Teresa, you are a nurse and you are going to let/encourage your son to do this????? Take out a big life insurance policy if you do. (I’ve often wondered how much and who insures these boats in seas this dangerous!!) I think these guys have cajones – strong tough men but the wives and mothers are something else – 10x as tough dang it takes a tough person to watch someone they love go off and do this – I obviously don’t have kids but if I did I’d chain them to a bed to keep them from doing this, my heart could not take it. I say that only half jokingly – you have to let people be themselves – but dang how do their hearts take it??? Go Ladies, you wives and moms – I commend you as much as these guys.

  40. Glenda says:

    Love watching the show.

    Have enjoyed eating crab ever since I was a toddler.

    My favorite> The King Crab.

    Give me a tub of Hot melted Butter and I could eat your entire catch below in the holding tanks.

    Have a safe trip on your next journey out.

  41. Ernie says:

    Has anyone of the captains or the crew considered smoking a pipe? Our pipe forum thinks that Sig would look great smoking a rusticated Oom Paul.

    BTW, DC has become my favorite show, edging out COPS, which WAS my all-time favorite.

    Be safe!

  42. 7/29/09 LOVE Deadliest Catch. LOVE Alaska. Visited there May-June 2008. Purchased canned seafood products and ate salmon BBQ while up there. Yummo! Keep up the good work and info.

  43. Steve Voyce says:

    I would like to see a show about what the cameramen and staff go through to film The Deadliest Catch. thanks

  44. Gary Verstraete says:

    How long does it take an Opillo crab to grow to Harvest size?

    We spent 6 weeks in Alaska in 2009 with pick up and pull trailer. Beautiful state..we also saw the Time Bandit at Homer docked. Our vet was a bush pilot in Homer area years ago and so gave us some inside info. Thanks for your answer..Love the show

  45. DocGlad says:

    what is the bait?

  46. Gina says:

    I’ve seen them bait their traps with Cod.
    Opilio=Snow Crab (queen crab)
    King Crab=Tanner Crabs much larger and spikey than Opilio
    What is worth eating on crab? Claws, legs and the immediate connectors to the legs inside the body. Don’t eat the “feathers” (gills) or anything else. :oP

    You can order your crab dishes at Red Lobster or most seafood restaurants/markets.

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