OCEAN CITY – Ocean City has always played a role in maintaining the Eastern Shore’s tradition for great crabs by having local businesses that sell the top crabs for a good price. Although a cold spring brought a slow start and an increase in price to the crab business, local businesses are still optimistic about this year’s crab season.
Although they have seen an increase in crab prices so far this season, Scotty Laird, manager of Belly Busters on 45th Street, said the operation has kept the same prices for the past seven years, refusing to pass on the price increase to the customer.
“It’s more about the tradition than the money,” Laird said, adding that for Belly Busters it’s the good old fashioned love for crab picking that keeps them going.
Having been in the crab business for years, Laird predicts the prices will decrease as the summer continues, balancing out the increase they saw at the beginning of the summer.
“We’ve had some great crabs so far,” Laird said.
As for the upcoming holiday, Laird is looking to ensure the business has more than enough crabs for everyone by ordering five times as many crabs as usual.
“We start ordering crabs a week ahead of time to ensure that we’re going to have enough,” he said.
Dan Parker, owner and operator of Crabs To Go, located on Routes 50 and 589, has also seen a mild price increase this year.
“Generally the price is a little bit higher this year,” he said.
Parker attributes the price increase to gas prices and a cold spring that resulted in a poor early catch.
Parker predicts that prices will drop after next weekend, adding that warmer waters will bring a better catch.
Although the cold spring brought a poorer catch this year, Parker said the quality of crab has not suffered, noting that customer response so far has been great.
Parker said that so far the crabs are a little smaller than last year, but that it’s hard to top last year’s crabs, which were the biggest that he had seen in 10 years.
According to Parker, 95 percent of the crabs from Crabs to Go come from the Choptank, with the other 5 percent coming from Maryland as well.
“The Choptank quality has been good for years and will continue to be good,” Parker said.
Robert Wyne of On the Bay Seafood on 42nd Street could not be happier with the crabs this year.
“Things are coming along nicely,” he said.
Wyne explained that he has not felt the price pinch due to the fact that he operates his own crab plant. Wyne explained that the plant allows him to bring crabs directly from the water to the restaurant, eliminating the struggles of middlemen and price increases.
“It helps with price and quality control,” he added.
Wyne said customer response has been positive, citing a few customers who recently spent five of their seven nights eating crabs.
“We have had unbelievable response this year,” Wyne said.
Wyne learned his crab secrets working at Jim’s Seafood, which was located in the same spot as the On the Bay 20 years ago. According to Wyne, he maintains the crab traditions and qualities that his former employer had by “cooking crabs the old fashioned way.”
Wyne said he puts on a fresh pot of crabs, making them steamed to order and providing customers with freshly steamed, tasty crabs.
Steve Hoffman of the Crab Alley located in West Ocean City on Golf Course Road has noted crab price fluctuations recently. According to Hoffman, prices started a little higher than usual this year, attributing the increase to gas prices.
”When it costs more money to get the crabs here, we see an increase,” he said.
Hoffman explained that the prices on local crabs, which don’t have to travel as far, have remained fairly constant.
Although there will most likely be a spike in prices next week due to Fourth of July demand, Hoffman predicts a decrease in prices for the remainder of the summer.
As far as taste and quality, Hoffman has been pleased so far by what he’s been hearing from the customers.
“Everything has been great,” he said. “We pay more for nicer crabs, and if we have an excess of medium and large crabs we add them to the All-U-Can-Eat crabs.”
The weather so far this summer has been beneficial for the crab population, according to Hoffman, who said the mild weather increases the crab’s lifespan, allowing Crab Alley to keep the crabs alive longer.