Volume 13, Issue 28 ~ July 14 - 20, - 2005
Crab Catch
by M.L. Faunce

Summer’s Here, But Are Crabs?
Commercial watermen still waiting for crabs to run strong
What’s your barometer for a fruitful summer? One of mine is fields of sweet corn that line many a Maryland road and crown many a crab feast. By Fourth of July, the corn was high and the kernels full. It’s as good a season as farmers hereabouts have seen in years.

Jim Livingston is another barometer for me. My next-door neighbor could be called a committed chicken-necker except that he uses turkey necks. On two early summer Saturday mornings, he caught 17 crabs each. Last week in his “regular spot in the West River” — the only description he’ll give — the catch bumped up to 35, many a beauteous seven inches. Jim is confident of more to come, but satisfaction is already in place in the smile he wears.

But what the Lord has given to the farmer and the chicken necker this season has yet to come around for the commercial crabber who must catch many more crabs to feed his family and pay his bills.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, says crabbing is still slow for all Maryland crabbers. “When everything starts out a month late, it stays a month late,” he says.

Water temperatures are in the 70s now, but remember that long, cold winter and spring? Commercial crabbers can’t forget.

“I think we’ll have a big fall because we have all these little crabs,” Simns said. “It takes those little crabs nine months to get big enough to sell, so we should start getting crabs in August.”

Pot crabber Steve Smith of Fairhaven was napping when I called to check on his catch. Smith sets his pots in my line of vision; I can spot floats marking his pots in the Bay off Franklin Manor in Southern Anne Arundel County on my evening walks. Wife Barbara reported that Steve was “not catching much, nothing great. The peeler run was small, and the crabs being caught are light. Crabs were shedding somewhere else, so there weren’t many soft crabs either.”

Despite slow times, Smith says her husband, who has more than 30 years of experience at this work, thinks the crabs will “pick up.”

When crabbing picks up, prices will go down. “Right now,” Simns says, “not everyone can buy them.”

Simns says he “looks for crabs in September, October and November.” But, he adds, “People get out of the habit of eating crabs in the fall.”

I remember the words of Noreen Eberly, Maryland director of Aquaculture and Seafood Programs, in early spring when people were clamoring for crabs: “Consumers should know that the best crab prices are in the fall. Pretty ironic considering that most people do not think about eating crabs after Labor Day, when they can be at their best.”

Ever thought of crabs for Thanksgiving Dinner? This might be the year. Save your turkey necks for my neighbor Jim.

This week’s crab prices

Bella’s Seafood, Cape St. Claire

  • Medium: $30 the dozen (mostly from Louisiana)
  • Skipper’s Pier, Deale
  • Medium : $34.99 the dozen (local crabs)

Tyler’s Tackle Shop and Crab House, Chesapeake Beach

  • Medium: $27 the dozen (local crabs)

Chesapeake Seafood, Edgewater

  • No. 1 Males: $35 the dozen (from Louisiana)
  • No. 2 Males: $25 the dozen.

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