Crustaceans lured out of the creek by gourmet food: Technique may be important, but getting the right bait is the key to good crabbing, Keith Elliott found

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The Independent Online
EVEN the seaside pastime of catching crabs must now consider environmental implications, it seems.

At the British Open Crabbing Championships held in Suffolk yesterday the 450 competitors were limited to two crabs in their catch bucket at any time. Robin Buncomb, vice-president of the British Crabbing Federation, said: 'The aim is so the crabs are not stressed by overcrowding.'

Such thoughtful treatment must have shocked the crustaceans of Walberswick. Crabs in the Suffolk village's tidal creek lurk generally undisturbed except for youngsters trying to trap them in nets.

But at the weekend they were treated to a gourmet banquet of fish heads and liver, kipper, bacon, sausage meat and even oranges - though crab meat is banned. 'Technique is important, but the right bait is the key thing,' Mr Buncomb said. So is a sociable nature. In the crab 'hot spots', competitors are only inches apart and tangles are frequent. Many competitors have their own recipes to tempt the crabs. The taste has to be good because nets and hooks are not allowed. You must persuade a crab to hang on to the baited line long enough to be lifted out of the water and over a bucket. With the right bait, up to 20 crabs can be captured at the same time.

Many opt for the cod heads being sold for 10p at the event by an enterprising local fishmonger. But Mr Buncomb claims that, while this works fine for smaller crabs, the specimens have a more sophisticated taste. He cannot take part because of administrative duties but claims he would surely win if he did. 'I use Suffolk ham that I have cured myself with two secret ingredients. The crabs can't resist it.'

Alex Hartley, of Liverpool, who has taken part in almost all of the 13 annual contest, believes that shore crabs (the larger edible crabs do not count in this event) are attracted by smelly baits.

'I would advise competitors to prepare their bait by letting it sit in the yard for a while,' he said.

But the winner, 10-year-old Sam Diggins, of Summer Leyton, Lowestoft, opted for a less antisocial lure. 'Some of my friends had fished here before and found that squid was the best bait for bigger crabs,' he said. The result was Claws, a super crab of four ounces, that won him the British title, a bottle of champagne, pounds 30 - and a jar of Shipham's Crab Paste.

The event, which started when a local youth club needed pounds 40, now raises more than pounds 1,000 for charity and has attracted up to 700 competitors. The title has become highly sought after and no one has won it twice.

'Some even cheat to try to win, but we're very vigilant. People really want this title,' Mr Buncomb said. Then again, the appeal may be in the T-shirts that only competitors can buy, which state 'I caught crabs at Walberswick'.

(Photograph omitted)