Record cold winter lowers crab count, raises prices

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - At the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Southwest D.C., you can track the supply of blue crabs coming from the Chesapeake Bay by price.

And Ryan Evans of Jessie Tyler Seafood says that this year, customers are going to have to reach for their wallets:

"It's gonna mean an expensive crab this year because we're having to get them from so far away -- Florida and Louisiana..."

And according to a new study, it may soon get even worse.

In the middle of every winter, scientists from Maryland and Virginia head out on the bay to try and count the crab population. What they do is scrape the mud on the bottom of the bay, looking for dormant crabs. What they found this year was that many crabs have been killed.

And more concerning is that the number of spawning age female crabs has dipped to a dangerously low number, less than a third of the target number of 215 million crabs set by scientists.

The immediate reason for the die-off seems to be our record cold winter, but pollution and diminished habitat compounded the problem. State officials say they now have no choice but to tighten harvest limits.

"To provide some protection for the next spawning class of females...So those will be the females that spawn in 2015 -- they are this year's juveniles," says Lynn Fegley, Director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries.

By saving them, the hope is that the population can bounce back in a couple of years.

So the bottom line for your crab feasts this year? Expect bushels of crabs to zoom past $200!

"Makes me sad, man. I grew up eating crabs and now they're not available like they used to be," says disappointed customer Dave Brown.