BERLIN – Ocean City restaurant owners agree that it was a tough year for crabs, but even so, they were able to meet customer demands and remain optimistic that next year’s harvest will be a great one.
The big scare this summer had to do with the condition of the Gulf Coast. After a British Petroleum (BP) off-shore rig spouted out one of the largest oil leaks in the country’s history this summer, the national supply of crabs looked to be in jeopardy.
Ocean City residents and visitors worried how local restaurants would deal with the expected scarcity of supply. Luckily, area eateries are not dependent upon Gulf Coast crabs due to the close proximity with the Chesapeake Bay, which produced a better than expected harvest this season.
Still, while crabs were available, there were some issues with the size this year.
Albert Levy of the Crab Bag said he noticed a general shrinkage in individual crabs this year.
“Crabs were plentiful,” he said, “but not big crabs.”
Levy’s summation was consistent with what other restaurant owners and managers had to say, including Dan Parker from Crabs to Go.
“Well, in general there were plenty of crabs,” said Parker. “Just not big, quality crabs.”
Other businesses also observed the difference in size from this yield, but did not believe it significant.
Kelly Conroy from Crab Alley said the crabs seemed, “slightly smaller this year.” Conroy also commented that any unusual factors that may have impacted the crabbing industry this year didn’t carry over to her customers.
“There was a little bit of a shortage but we didn’t suffer,” said Conroy, “It didn’t really affect us.”
For other parts of the country that may have been dependent upon crab harvests from more southern waters, the season did not play out as smoothly. Because of less than ideal conditions last winter and especially the drastic impact that the BP oil spill had upon the sea life and crabbing business on the Gulf Coast, supplies from the area were scarce and expensive.
“They’re battling for crabs down there,” remarked Levy. “Prices are through the roof. It’s a war to get them.”
For most local restaurants, it just seemed smarter to buy as locally as possible and avoid the trouble in the Gulf.
Crabs to Go had attempted to import some Gulf Coast crabs over the winter but encountered difficulty because of the impact that lower than average temperatures had on the crabs this year. As for this summer, Parker decided to go with crabs from closer to home.
“We prefer local crabs in the summer,” said Parker. “They have better flavor than Gulf crabs, even if some of those are bigger.”
Another issue with importing from the Gulf over the summer is the danger heat presents to transport.
“The crabs this summer from Louisiana were incredibly expensive,” Parker said. “And as hot as it was you’re looking at a 20 to 30 percent dead loss by the time they arrive. It becomes hard to make a profit on that.”
Conroy stated that Crab Alley buys almost entirely from local sources.
“We have four or five local guys,” she said, “and then we get the rest from the Carolinas.”
All three restaurants expressed loyalty and satisfaction with their suppliers.
Levy said that he put a lot of trust in his group of suppliers every year to come up with the best, biggest and highest quality crabs for him to provide his customers. He did mention that there were a few places he, “just won’t take crabs from.” None of the areas he mentioned were in Maryland.
“We could buy those crabs for $35 a bushel,” he said, “but we’d be letting the customers down.”
Parker agreed that paying a little extra to ensure his restaurant receives a superior product is more than worth it in the long run.
“We stay with the same few crabbers,” stated Parker. “We think they deliver the best product around. Maybe not the cheapest, but you pay for quality.”
All in all, anyone who may have worried at the beginning of the season as to the state of crabs in Ocean City should have had their fears quickly dispelled the first time they visited an area restaurant.
Because of the abundance of local crabs, none of the businesses questioned reported any significant change in the price per bushel they were charging customers or the number of overall crabs sold.
Now that the beach season is winding down, it’s taking demand for crabs with it. October will mark the end of local bay crabs being delivered to the town, sources say.
Looking ahead to next year, Levy predicts better times in the crab industry ahead and is especially hopeful that troubles in the Gulf will not be an issue any more, whether local restaurants use crabs from there or not.
“Louisiana is back now and safer than ever,” he said. “It’s been cleaned up and inspected. It’s better now than it’s ever been. It should be a good next harvest.”