A Guide to Maryland’s Crisfield Crab Race

Blue crabs
Blue crabs | © wpopp / WikiCommons
Kristina Gaddy

Have you ever seen crabs scuttling along in a race? The answer is probably no, but summertime on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is the perfect opportunity to make the answer yes. Crisfield, Maryland, has hosted a Crab Derby since 1947, and here’s everything you need to know about this strange Maryland tradition.

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If you’ve ever seen a crab alive, you know they scramble to get to the top of the pile they’re in. So, it would make sense that they’d scramble to the finish line too, right? Maybe. Officially called the National Hard Crab Derby, this crab race started in 1947 as a part of Crisfield’s Fishing Fair, an annual event that highlights the town’s water culture. Held on Labor Day weekend, the Crab Derby soon became the highlight of the festival. In the mid-1950s, the Governor of Maryland started a race called “The Governor’s Cup,” where other states were invited to send their crabs to compete against a Maryland Blue Crab.

The crabs don’t always seem that motivated to make it to the finish line. An official race track was built that slopes downward, making it easier for both the spectators to see the small crabs and for the crabs to slide their way down toward the finish line. During election years, the Crab Derby becomes an important stop for political hopefuls to come and mingle with the constituents on the Eastern Shore.

The Crab Derby is still part of a larger festival that includes a Miss Crustacean Beauty Pageant, Crab Cooking Contest, 10K race, and all the things you’d expect at a summer festival, including carnival rides, food vendors, a parade, and kids’ activities.

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After the crab derby, the second best spectator event is the crab-picking contest. While most people have to take their time sectioning out the tender back-fin crab meat while they’re sitting on a deck and eating crabs with light beer, Crisfield is home to some real pros who can dissect a steamed crab in seconds. During the crab-picking contest, you’ll see veteran crab-pickers (who usually work in Crisfield’s crab-processing industry) blow through crabs at unimaginable speed and with techniques that you’ll envy for the rest of the summer.

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