Watermen report Chesapeake blue crab shortage

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The heat makes it’s hard to remember just how cold our winter was. But there’s a constant reminder for Virginia’s watermen that’s affecting their wallets, too.

Blue crabs are big business along the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months. They’re a Virginia tradition — steamed, deviled, or battered up and fried, blue crabs are in high demand for miles around. But this year, they’re in short supply.

Watermen, like Ray Wicker who owns Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood in Chesapeake, say they aren’t seeing the bounty of blue crabs that they’re used to.

Photos: Blue crab shortage

“We specialize in blue crabs and soft shell crabs,” Wicker said. “We normally have a good run of female crabs that we catch over in Ocean View and in the Willoughby area. This year the water temperature was cold and we lost a month of crabbing.”

Experts say frigid water resulted in one of the worst die-offs in recent history, killing more than a quarter of the Chesapeake’s blue crabs. The number of female blue crabs has reached a 12-year low, making Ray’s big spring run for bushels, a bit of a bust. And that pain gets passed to consumers too.

“When crabs are plentiful we do all you can eat, but right now we have just by the dozen,” Wicker said. “We used to catch a bushel out of every 10 pots and now we’re catching, shoot we might catch 10 bushels out of 400 pots. Our business is mainly crab and crabmeat, so a lot of our prices have had to go up due to the shortage.”

Ray said at his restaurant they’re making adjustments to the menu, little by little. He’s hoping things will rebound before lines of hungry customers die down. He said a couple of other issues compounding crabbers problems right now are restrictions limiting how much they can work. And he said the fertilizer many people use in yards dumps right back into the rivers, causing grass to grow up on their equipment, adding to maintenance costs.

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