Restaurants all over the country are dealing with a shortage of Maryland crabs.
The stock in the Chesapeake Bay was low this year, which has suppliers looking to other places to keep up with demand.
Angus Phillips, who used to write the fishing and outdoors column for the Washington Post, and Gene Miller normally expect to catch a bushel a day when they go recreational crabbing on a tributary of the Severn River, but this year they're lucky to get enough for lunch.
“Normally when we have a down year we’ll see lots of females, lots of little crabs that aren’t big enough to keep,” Phillips said. “This year we're not seeing anything.”
“The taking of females, I’m sure the commercial guys are going to hate me, but sometimes someone’s gotta say, 'No more females,'” Miller said. “Take a year off. See what happens.”
Commercial crabbers are suffering financially from the shortage. Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis buys from six or more crab suppliers, who tell them it is the worst crab season in 20 years.
“It’s definitely dropped off about 60 to 70 percent from what they were catching last year, without a doubt,” Cantler’s manager Dan Donnelly said. “I mean, that’s pretty dramatic.”
And the demand remains high. Cantler's is serving up tray after tray, seven days a week. Many of the crabs come from out of state.
"Well, we subsidize with Louisiana crabs, and they've been hard to get as well because of demand,” Donnelly said. “Of course, if they’re not here in Maryland, everybody’s going to Louisiana or Texas or Florida.”
The Bethesda Crabhouse, which has been in business since 1961, says it always has a good supply on hand. Manager Yen Lee showed a bushel of Louisiana crabs, which he says are as sweet as local crabs, though some local crab lovers disagree.
“The majority of crabs, even if they’re going to the shore, they’re getting the same stuff we’re getting,” Lee said. “I mean, there are local crabs but they’re very few and they tend to be on the smaller side, so the all-you-can-eat variety."
An expert fisherman, Phillips is puzzled by what caused the shortage.
"It's worse than it’s ever been, and I would like to hear somebody acknowledging it and giving us some idea of what the cause is," Phillips said.