It’s an ugly thing.
Orange and tan, with eight long legs, a rough hard-shelled body, and a face that only a mother might love.
Consider its astrological moniker, Cancer, and a crab is not exactly an inspiring creature.
It was once the bane of inshore fishermen and more than a few curse words were shared among fishing crews in the 1960s and 70s who spent hours picking the long-legged pests out of gillnets they had set for groundfish.
But that was before the northern cod stocks collapsed and before anyone could imagine that the snow crab could be a popular menu item in high-end restaurants or on cruise ship buffets.
Nowadays the crab has become the queen of the sea for many fishing boats and fish harvesters in Atlantic Canada, and an important economic driver of provincial economies.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s is the most valuable catch, rivaled only by shrimp.
In 2019, thanks to a strong market and a higher-than-usual price of $5.20 per pound, landings of snow crab in that province were worth $303 million.
COVID-19 took a bite out of the crab markets this year, thanks to the closure of restaurants and the cancellation of cruises, but compared to businesses in other sectors, crab fishing turned out to be a safer bet in spite of the pandemic.
With catches sold for around $3.40 a pound, the paycheques for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador was, collectively, worth about $203 million.
While snow crab plays second fiddle to lobster in the other Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, it still added millions to those economies as well.
The total snow crab quota for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island was just over 27,000 metric tonnes for 2020.
That will add another $200 million or so in new money for Atlantic Canada.
And that's just the direct pay for fish harvesters.
The trickle-down effect of snow crab means hundreds of jobs created in fish processing plants, and the employment in the trucking industry.
Then there's the retail and service sectors where those fishing crews spend their money.
Add in the export value of the product, millions more dollars for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of each province, and ugly becomes a matter of perspective.