With crab scarcity comes tough decisions

A note on the tables at Jerry\'s Place, a popular Southern Maryland seafood restaurant, explains they\'d rather serve no crabcakes than lesser-quality crabcakes. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON — Next time you get a hankering for a Maryland crab cake, you better ask whether it’s made with fresh crab meat.

Debbie Nelson, co-owner of Jerry’s Place in Prince Frederick, says the supply of fresh crabs is thin.

“Maryland (crab) meat in particular, as delicious as it is, is really not as plentiful as some folks might think,” she says. “Crabs are very scarce. Crabbers are pulling up empty pots.”

Nelson says the problem is not over-crabbing.

“There are certain species of fish that are eating the hard shells and the soft shells. So the crabbers are struggling even more than we are right now.”

She says crabs from other locations are scarce too. In Venezuela, normally a bountiful supplier, crabbers have been told not to practice their trade to allow the crab supply to grow.

So Nelson’s taking action. At her restaurant, they’ve put notes on each table informing patrons of the situation so they’re prepared for the day crab cakes may not be on the menu. It’s important, she says, because Jerry’s Place will not use pasteurized meat – meat that’s been heated to preserve it.

“I could easily go with pasteurized meat. It’s not half as pricey as fresh crab meat and it’s plentiful. But it doesn’t taste as good.”

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