I’m not sure what I expected of my visit to Whitby Crab Company. Perhaps I imagined a small clifftop cabin tended by one lonely fishermen, delicately preparing the crabs one-by-one until he has enough in his bucket to sell to the local restaurants and cafés.
In which case I should have known better. These days, Whitby crab is a seriously in demand product – processing has to be swift and efficient.
The first surprise is that the company doesn’t actually operate from Whitby, but the nearby coastal town of Staithes, in an industrial complex blessed with glorious views of the surrounding moors and coastline. Here, I find a band of merry men preparing the products that will end up in locations as far away as Billingsgate Market, Lowestoft and even Devon.
While Whitby crab may yield the sweetest and most delicate white meat, the production methods are unavoidably gruesome. So look away now if you prefer the more romantic yarn...
After being caught off of Whitby in baited pots and collected by trawlers, the crabs are brought to the Staithes factory alive. Indeed, some will be sold on this way. The unlucky ones are taken straight to what my softly spoken guide, Norman, calls the ‘kill tanks’. I watch on as he creates a tepid bath – equal parts boiling and cold water - that will kill the crabs in anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. The temperature, Norman explains, matters greatly – too cold and the crabs’ miserable end will be prolonged; too hot and their limbs will fall off from the shock.