|Hey, those crabs are undersized!
A survey that historically has guided blue crab management in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries shows the population has dipped slightly but likely not enough to trigger new restrictions on this season’s harvest.
The annual winter dredge survey, released May 20, suggests that the crustacean’s numbers remain “healthy and robust,” despite the downturn, said Steven Bowman, head of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees the state’s fishing regulations.
“We don’t expect this will change our 2020 management measures for blue crab, and we will continue to manage blue crabs based on the best available science,” he added.
Officials in Maryland also emphasized the population’s resilience in their remarks on the report, but they stopped short of indicating how it might influence their management decisions.
The dredge survey results suggest that crabs should be available in their “normal capacity,” said Genine McClair, blue crab program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The department conducts the survey jointly with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
“We’re in a place where we want to be,” McClair said. The overall population of 405 million was in line with the average number of crabs counted during the survey’s 30-year run.
|Now that's courage! Or foolishness.
Massive, state-enacted lockdowns shuttered restaurants to slow the spread of the coronavirus just days before the April 1 opening of the season. Poor weather sidelined watermen for much the first month, and a shortage of temporary foreign work visas has left many crab processors shorthanded.Maryland people are crazy about their crabs. $200 a bushel proves it.
Still, demand for crabs has skyrocketed in recent weeks at seafood markets, grocery stores and restaurants offering carryout service, industry leaders said. Meanwhile, the harvest continues to trend behind where it was at the same time last year.
The combination of low supply and high demand has created a “price war,” said Jason Ruth, owner of Harris Seafood Co. in Grasonville, MD. He estimates that the prices paid at the dock — which jumped from $200 to $220 per bushel between May 19 and May 20, according to industry sources — are 60% higher than at any point in the company’s history.
Before the pandemic-induced restrictions, restaurants accounted for nearly three-quarters of his sales, Ruth said. But that has been offset by a rise in people buying whole crabs off the shelf and going through the painstaking process of steaming them at home.
“One of the precursors to having crabs at home is you have to have a lot of time. Well, people have a lot more time right now,” Ruth said.
As far as the populations? Crabs go up and crabs go down, and there doesn't seem much rhyme or reason to it. As long as you don't continue to hammer them on the down years, they seem to rebound pretty well.
The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Kayleigh “Honey Badger” McEnany up on time and within budget at The Other McCain.