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Crab supplies down, prices up

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This prime soft-shell crab (4 to 4.5 inches from tip to tip) was shed Monday at Williams and Son Seafood in Remlik. Crabs have been scarce this season and the high prices of soft-shells, hard crabs, and picked crabmeat have reflected their scarcity.  (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

A bushel of number one jimmies (large male hard crabs) are bringing $300 at Linton’s Seafood in Crisfield, Maryland.

The price is not that high here in Middlesex, but locally-picked crabmeat is selling for as high as $25 a pound in stores.

It all goes back to supply and demand. Kevin Wade of J&W Seafood in Deltaville said the local crab catch, which has been depressed, has picked up the last couple weeks in certain areas. “The jury is still out on whether the overall catch for this season will be good or bad,” he said.

“There is a lot of speculation on why we haven’t been catching many crabs, but I’m not one to speculate,” Wade said. “We are hopeful the catch is going to pick up.”

With the numbers down, some commercial watermen are getting as much as $90 for a bushel of number one jimmies at the dock. The price range for a bushel of number one jimmie crabs has been $40 to $120 in recent years. Last year, when there were plenty of crabs, the price dipped to $40 a bushel. They were as high as $120 earlier this season.

Urbanna waterman Jonesey Payne fishes 80 crab pots in Robinson and Urbanna creeks and the Rappahannock River. “I’m catching about a bushel and a half of number one jimmies, and another half bushel of mixed number two jimmies and sooks a day,” he said. “That’s not many crabs, but the price is very good.”

“We just aren’t catching many crabs, but the price makes it worthwhile for me to keep on crabbing,” said Payne. 

“Some of the boys further upriver are fishing 250 pots and are catching three to three-and-a-half bushels of number ones, but they have to burn more gas than I do,” said Payne.

Joey Williams of Williams and Son Seafood in Remlik has 150 crab pots and 210 peeler pots in the Rappahannock River. Joey and his father Thomas work together and sell crabs retail and wholesale.

Williams said the downside to the limited supply is not being able to meet the demand of his July 4th steamed hard crab business. “There is no way we will meet Bethpage Campground’s hard-crab demand this weekend,” he said. 

Williams said some customers have shown resistance to the higher prices. “When the price is high, not everyone can afford to eat crabs, and that’s a shame,” he said.

Kevin Wade summed it up best: “Everybody has an answer as to why we have so few or too many crabs, but I don’t know why and I don’t want to say what I think because it’s probably wrong. All I can tell you is what it is right at this moment, and we are seeing watermen catching a few more crabs now.”

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 07.02.2013

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