Blue crab population down, prices up

Posted at 3:43 PM, Jul 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-16 10:18:27-04

Virginia Beach, Va. – In Hampton Roads, there's always a big demand for crabs, but there's one problem with that: Blue crabs are hard to come by this year.

“I’m down.  I’m way down actually from this year to last year,” said Mark Sanford, a commercial crabber, “I’m probably catching half of what I usually do.”

Restaurants and seafood markets are feeling the effects.

There are days when they run out, and the prices are higher.

“It’s all supply and demand.  The supply is very, very low and the demand is high and because of that the price increases just like everything else,” said Sanford.

The wholesale price has gone up, which means customers are now paying more.   At Dockside Seafood Market, a dozen Jimmies, which are male crabs, cost $26.  Last year the same amount would have cost about $18.

According to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, overfishing is not the problem.  They don’t know for sure what is, but say a poor reproductive year could be to blame.  Wind, tide and storms can all affect crab spawning.

The Marine Resources Commission also says there's been an unusually large influx of juvenile red drum, a type of fish which feast on baby crabs, and there's a good chance that had an impact.

Some in the industry say it's also due in part to restrictions and regulations, but whatever the cause, it's a big problem for crabbers throughout the region.

“I go every other day because it’s just not worth it.  There are people on the Eastern Shore that go every day, but as you get up towards Tangier Island … they’re having a terrible time,” said Sanford.

An annual scientific winter dredge survey of the bay-wide blue crab population found that the population of blue crabs dropped this year from 765 million to just 300 million.

Though it's not unprecedented, it’s not what people want to hear.

“It’s just a hard living right now, but hopefully things will get better,” Sanford said.

The Marine Resources Commission says there is some good news.  The number of adult females increased substantially, and they are the cornerstone of the stock rebuilding program.