Predictions of a strong season for Chesapeake Bay crabs turned out to be accurate, but the bounty may be backfiring on watermen who are catching more than they can sell and selling them at lower prices.
Watermen who go out without a dedicated buyer are having trouble at times selling their catch, said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.
“Well, sometimes buyers put 'em on a limit and sometimes they tell them just not to go,” Simns told the Associated Press.
Watermen are getting as little as $20 a bushel for smaller crabs used by picking houses. Larger male crabs bought for restaurant use are fetching $60 to $80 a bushel, down from $100 to $110 last year, Simns said.
And while the lower prices benefit the processors, the picking houses are running into the same problem as the watermen: Some of them are getting more seafood than they can sell.
Even at prices that are an estimated 10-15 percent lower than last year, the economic downturn has resulted in fewer buyers.
The harvest increase was predicted by the annual winter dredge survey, which put the population this year at 658 million, up from 418 million the year before. The low was reached in 2001 with only 254 million crabs.
Still, this year’s haul is well below the 852 million in 1993, the Associated Press reported.
Overfishing, pollution and loss of habitat were blamed for the drop, but the population appears to have rebounded following severe catch restrictions. Starting in 2008, Virginia and Maryland cut the allowable crab harvest by a third.