Pinching truth: It’s the worst blue crab season in decades

Live blue crabs at Jesse Taylor Seafood on the Southwest Waterfront are a bit smaller this year, regular customer Tee Daughtry says. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Manager Stan Kiser works with a customer to fill her order at Jesse Taylor Seafood in Southwest Washington. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
''It's been rough but we've always had enough,'' says Stan Kiser, manager of Jesse Taylor Seafood about the shortage of blue crabs this season. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
A worker flips the crabs over so they have an easier time breathing in the display tray on Tuesday, Sept. 10. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The crabs for sale on Tuesday along the Southwest Waterfront are from Louisiana, Delaware and Maryland. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON – It’s being called the worst blue crab season in 20 years.

Last winter, the Chesapeake Bay was fully stocked with blue crabs. But now, the population is depleted and retailers are having to pull them from other states to bring them to the table.

At Jesse Taylor Seafood on the Southwest Waterfront, manager Stan Kiser agrees it’s the worst blue crab season he’s seen. Every crabber is pulling in fewer bushels, he says.

“Instead of dealing with two or three people, you have to deal with 10 people to get the amount that you need,” Kiser says.

But the demand is still high. So, Jesse Taylor’s as well as other wholesale markets and restaurants are pulling their blue crabs in from out of state and charging the consumer more.

“As far north as Delaware and as far south as Florida,” Kiser says.

“We’re experiencing this scarcity of crabs from Florida to New Jersey and the whole East Coast as far as commercial crabbing for blue crabs,” says Jack Brooks, president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association.

Blue crabs are fighting to survive for a number of reasons, Brooks says. Their natural habitat — grasses that grow in the bay — are thin, giving them little place to hide. Pollution levels increased in the bay after major storms like Hurricane Sandy and Irene forced runoff into the watershed.

Finally, one of the blue crabs’ natural predators, the striped bass, which is protected by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is thriving, Brooks says.

The proof is in the numbers. The annual winter dredge survey of the blue crab population showed a dense population of young crabs, but the same survey this year reflected a significant drop, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve got a big, big, big population of these predators. These natural predators — we’ve been protecting them so much — and when these crabs shed, or even baby hard crabs, these striped bass are scarfing them up,” Brooks says.

This story has been modified to correct the affiliation of Jack Brooks.

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