Seeing Red: Crab Company Finds Home in New Bedford

By Don Cuddy

The crew of the F/V Krystle James unloads is over 70k pounds of red crab at a processing plant in New Bedford. The red crab is a relatively new type of catch for this region. Peter Pereira

NEW BEDFORD — When Capt. John Brewer and the five crew members aboard the crab boat Krystle James tied up at the South Terminal Wednesday morning after an eight-day trip, they were enjoying a rare glimpse of land.
Once they finished unloading 70,000 pounds of red crab, the 83-foot boat was refueled and steamed out to the fishing grounds the following day to harvest more. “We fish them year-round from the Hague Line right down to Hatteras,” Brewer said.
Found along the continental shelf, the Atlantic deep-sea red crab, the Chaceon quinquedens, is steadily gaining appreciation among consumers for its taste and texture. A product of the cold ocean depths, the crabs are taken in wire pots, baited with menhaden and set in water from 350 to 400 fathoms deep (2,100 to 2,400 feet). The crabs are kept alive in saltwater tanks on each vessel with the temperature maintained at a constant 38 degrees.
Red crabs may not be as sexy as their more illustrious cousins, such as king crab and Dungeness, but they are certainly abundant.
The four boats fishing out of New Bedford for the Atlantic Red Crab Co. have had no difficulty reaching their 75,000-pound trip limit, despite a catch that is limited to male crabs. “We hope to harvest 3.6 million pounds of crab this year,” said Jon Williams, CEO of the company, formed in January, which has just opened a processing plant on Herman Melville Boulevard in the building vacated by MarLees Seafood. “This is the height of our season right now,” he said. “We keep the boats fishing, and if anyone wants a break they just rotate out.”
Williams, who fished crab in the Bering Sea for 10 years, bought his first boat for red crab in 1996 and has worked in the industry ever since. “It’s always been a great product but it’s just never really been appreciated or available. We aim to change that,” he said.
Opening the city plant derived from a business plan that called for “vertical integration,” Williams said. The company owns the boats, the crabs are cooked and the meat picked in the company’s plant, and boat arrivals can be coordinated to ensure a constant supply of product.
“We extract the meat and make it available, ready to eat, in small-portion cups,” Williams said. A 6-ounce cup of crab meat retails for $8.99, he said, and the company is working out distribution deals with large retailers.
The new company also received a welcome boost just this month when it was awarded certification by the Marine Stewardship Council.
The council, a London-based nonprofit, seeks to influence consumers when buying seafood by issuing ecolabels to fisheries around the globe that it deems sustainable. Atlantic Red Crab is the first company on the East Coast to attain such certification.
Williams, who is from Maine, started the company himself, with the support of investors. He is optimistic about the future.
“For the last 14 years, every pound of this crab has been going to Canada to be processed and brought back to the U.S.
for sale,” he said. “Now we’re doing it all here, and the city has welcomed us. Between the boats and the plant, we’re bringing about a hundred new jobs to the city. We’re glad to be in a place that appreciates commercial fishermen.”
He added that “Kristin Decas from the Harbor Development Commission really went the extra mile and we’re planning to do a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor (Scott) Lang soon.”
For more information on the company and its products, visit
September 26, 2009
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