At the landmark Fisherman's Inn and Crab Deck at the Kent Narrows, owner Andy Schulz says he'll have plenty of crabs for his waterfront crab feast this summer. But it's going to cost you.
"The forecast is for higher prices as usual. Seafood hasn't been coming down lately," Schulz explained. "Dozen large crabs, July fourth? Oh gosh, it'll be in the 50s a dozen..."
His forecast is based on the annual state forecast for crabs. Scientists spent the winter dredging mud at more than 1,000 locations in the Chesapeake Bay, counting buried, dormant crabs. This year, they say the population has plummeted from 765 million crabs last year to 300 million. The report warns the decline "could lead to the tightening of commercial harvest restrictions."
One theory blames the crabs themselves for their decline.
Maryland DNR Crab Program Manager Brenda Davis said, "There's no way to tell for sure. There's an increase in natural mortality when you have lots of young crabs like we did in 2012 just because they tend to eat each other."
Not everyone believes the numbers. Veteran Chesapeake Waterman Captain Andrew Wright said it's too early to know.
"You just can't go by what statistics say," he added. "...really you just have to wait and see."
Wright thinks crabs will bounce back quickly. Sally and James Wolfe of Berryville, Va. sure hope so. But no matter the price, the couple says they'll keep on picking.
"Still worth eating...," Sally laughed. "...you can't give up crabs just because the price goes up."
James added, "It'll hurt, but you can't give up some of the good things."