You can ask any waterman crabbing on the Bay this year how the season is going so far and you will undoubtedly get a similar grunt from all of them; it's not good. I probably didn't have to tell many of you this. If you happened to purchase steamed crabs this year, a summer tradition in these parts, or be in the market for fresh crabmeat, then you already know exactly what I am talking about. That is, if you don't go comatose from the sticker shock.
Crab prices this year have been excessively high, which means a lot coming off last year's costly figures. It's not that watermen are over-harvesting. Quite the contrary, they just aren't finding crabs. Earlier I explained why this may be the case and predicted an "off" year for the fishery, but even I thought that the fall would bring price relief as local harvests amped up. Normally, the fall is when crabs are at their fattest and tastiest, and it also when supply seems to outpace demand. But even if the local harvest redeems itself for its summer dearth in the next few months, don't expect prices to decrease.
When it rains, it pours. Murphy's law. Can't help for losing even when I'm winning. Any of these can fill in the blank describing the remainder of the crab season. It's as if Ziggy is writing the script. What should be a great time of the year to purchase blue crab is just not going to pan out the way we were hoping due to the fact that Venezuela crab meat is going to disappear from the market starting this week and it will not return until November. Venezuela is a major contributor of crabmeat to the U.S., delivering around 20,000 pounds to Miami airport daily. Even though BlackSalt doesn't carry Venezuelan crabmeat, when that amount of product is missing from the market, everyone feels the pressure.
To compound woes, Gulf crabmeat production is going to take a plunge as the delayed shrimp season finally gets underway. The shrimp season is awfully late this year, one of the main reasons why domestic shrimp prices are also a headache for many consumers, and unfortunately the two operations do not coexist peacefully. Most gulf crabbers will pull their pots from the water in fear that shrimp trawlers will snare their wares.
So, to the rescue comes our local blue crab, the most sought-after of all blue crabs. The good news is that there will be great, fatty crabs this fall from our native waters. The bad news is that both Venezuelan and Gulf crabmeat will become scarcer, laying the burden directly on the backs of both our local watermen and local blue crab. You can argue that Chesapeake Bay crab is the best tasting crab out there and that all other crabs are inferior. You can't, however, argue that we need other sources of crab for a healthy and wallet friendly market. As you might find out in the next few months, sometimes its difficult to have your crab and eat it too.