It's been suspected for years. The Maryland crabs on area menus might not come from the Chesapeake Bay.
"The majority of the crabs in Maryland are coming out of primarily North Carolina and Louisiana and Texas,” said Lee Carrion with Coveside Crabs. “And then they're brought into the state, sold to like crab houses or middle men that sell them steamed to take home, and they're labeled as Maryland."
Carrion is a member of the Maryland Seafood Marketing Advisory Commission. She says these less expensive, imposter crustaceans drive down the price for real Maryland blue crabs.
"That's not fair,” she said. “You're buying a superior product, and the crabber and his family should benefit from going out and harvesting Maryland crabs and being paid a fair market value for their incredible hard work, and then give the public the option to make the choice."
The seafood industry contributes about $600-million to the state's economy every year. In 2016, crabs had a dockside value of $56.6-million.Unless you catch them yourself, or buy them off the dock from a waterman, you can't. Except for my sort annual soft crab, I don't eat many crabs, and haven't since they stopped being a perk of a hard day of sampling. If MD watermen want to compete with foreign crab, they'll have to get the price down.
However, there's little regulatory enforcement to prevent mislabeled shellfish making its way to consumers.
"If you identify crabs as Maryland, it has to be from Maryland," said Mark Powell with Maryland’s Department of Agriculture.
He’s talking about a 2011 state labeling law that's on the books. For crabs, the legislation requires businesses to have a sign saying what state they were raised or landed if they're being touted as local.