Vieques, Crab Island
Throughout history, the island of Vieques was claimed by the English and the Spanish back and forth until the Spanish established a settlement and built a fort in the XIX century. The Dutch and the French also tried but not as intensely as the English.
In early English and French maps of the Caribbean, Vieques appears under the name: Crab Island. Englishmen must have been amazed at the amount of “Cardisoma Guanhumi” crabs in Vieques. These were considered a pest for centuries.
It wasn’t until close to mid XX century that the crabs became a staple in the local cuisine. Maybe the economic depression or the Second World War, the fact was that food was in short supply in Vieques and crabs were a plenty.
Now a days, crabs are a delicacy and sell for about $35 to $40 a dozen. There is a crabbing season and an off season. Catching a crab during the off season (or possession of a crab) can result in severe fines and confiscation of vehicle and hardware used for the catch. In the Puerto Rico reserve areas, crabbing is forbidden year round. In the Fish and Wildlife reserve you need a special permit.
Crabs are prepared in stew, rice, soup, pastries, pasteles or just boiled in salty water. You should not eat freshly caught crabs. They need to be “cleaned” for a month or so with corn, coconut or local fruit so they get “fat” and shed the mangrove like smell produced by their diet in the wild.
by Wanda Bermúdez, July 2014. Pictures by Oscar Bermúdez and TICATOVE