FENWICK ISLAND, MD - Spring's crab glut has quickly become summer's crab shortage.
And with crab consumption a July Fourth holiday ritual on the Mid-Atlantic coast, crustacean connoisseurs could be in for some disappointment.
Despite a spring of plentiful crabs, various takeout seafood shops in the area have been struggling to obtain a full supply for the summer.
"It's flip-flopped from the spring," said Dave Long, manager at Ocean View Seafood.
While crabs are typically plentiful during the preseason, a cold spell followed by hot temperatures and more wind than she has seen in her 30 years in the business have made the crustacean scarce, said Mary Ellen Ball, co-owner of Tom and Terry's Seafood Market.
"It shows you how much nature can turn," she said. "It's Mother Nature."
Combine that with a typical summer increase in demand, and there's one outcome.
"It's the perfect storm for a shortage," she said. "Right now, you can barely get crabs because of the weather problem," she said.
There are plenty of juvenile crabs, Long said, but those won't do the trick, as they take about a year or two to develop.
And Ball's not seeing enough large and jumbo crabs, she said.
"They're, like, nonexistent," she said.
Brenda Davis, blue crab program manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said that during a winter dredge survey - the only baywide fishery independent effort to estimate the number of blue crabs living in the Chesapeake Bay- the state recorded the highest recruit abundance in the history of the survey, which was first conducted in 1988.
Of the 764 million crabs recorded this year - an increase from 461 million in last year's study - 587 million of them fell into the recruit category. Recruits are considered to be crabs with a carapace (the distance point to point across the back) of 2.25 inches and smaller.
Davis is hearing from commercial crabbers that in the upper bay, things are slow, but down the bay, crabs are being caught.
"The season is starting slow," she said.
Crabs hit the soft-shell market once they have a carapace of 3.25 inches, while the minimum size for the hard-shell crab market is 5 inches, Davis said. Those two figures each increase by .25 inches after July 15.
Crabs mature in about 18 months, she said.
While Long stopped short of saying there is a crab shortage, he said his distributors have been supplying fewer crabs.
"I'm definitely not getting as many as I order," he said.
On Father's Day weekend, Ball paid record prices to purchase crabmeat. The crabmeat she uses for crab cakes costs $21 per pound; she can make three crab cakes with a pound of meat, she said.
"We sell hundreds and hundreds of them," she said about the crab cakes. "I'm scrambling now."
On July Fourth weekend, Ball said she buys $10,000 of crabmeat.
"I'm really afraid for July Fourth and what's going to happen," she said.
She said it's tough to predict whether she'll be in a predicament for much longer.
"Weather is everything; you just don't know," she said.