Creature Feature: Red Rock Crab

rock crabNote: In November, 2015 the recreational and commercial rock crab fisheries were closed due to high levels of domoic acid, a naturally occurring biotoxin, in crab viscera and meat. For the latest information about harmful algal blooms and any crab season closures, visit the CDFW website.

The red rock crab may be found statewide in shallow coastal areas and in bays, on rocky or reef-type habitat.  They  range from the intertidal zone to depths of 300 ft. or more.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Orangish-red to darker, rusty red.
  • Shell (carapace) with heavily serrated front edge.
  • Ten legs; large red pinchers with black tips, eight remaining legs lighter.

Life History & Other Notes
Red rock crabs are both predators and scavengers, feeding on a variety of other invertebrates.  Their strong, crushing claws allow them to prey on heavy-shelled animals such as snails, clams, abalone, barnacles, and oyster.

In Southern California, mating is most common in the spring but occurs throughout the year.  Females carry egg masses containing up to four million eggs on their abdomen.  The eggs hatch in early fall, and the larvae undergo six developmental stages before settling to the bottom as juvenile crabs.

Gear for taking red rock crab ranges from a diver’s or shore picker’s hands to baited hoop nets and traditional traps (north of Point Arguello) fished from piers, jetties, and boats.  Likely fishing areas include the shallow, nearshore open coast and in bays.


 Red Rock Crab Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Cancer productus

Other Common Names: red crab

Range & Habitat: Statewide in coastal areas and bays, on rocky or reef-type habitat

Length & Weight: To 8 in.

Life Span: To 6 years

Diet & Bait: Feed on a variety of invertebrates including snails, clams, abalone, barnacles, oysters. Try using clams for bait.


Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book. Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to publications@wildlife.ca.gov.

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