A colder April has delayed the beginning of crab season.
The next time your order a crab cake, be prepared to pay a bit more. A national shortage of the popular crustacean is forcing Maryland restaurants to raise prices or remove crab-based entreés from their menus. The shortage is caused, in part, by so many restaurants reopening at the same time, raising the demand.
In Maryland, crab season begins on April 1, but cooler temperatures have prevented crabs from coming out.
Typically, Maryland will import crabs from warmer gulf states early in the season to supplement supply until the local crabs come in. But the busy rush to return to tourism in the south has eaten up supply, causing the price per pound to go up by almost 60%. Local restaurants have been raising prices to compensate, giving customers a heads up on social media pages.
In 2019, a shortage of H-2B visas led to high crabmeat prices because pickers weren’t available to process the crabs. Last spring, Maryland crab houses rejoiced when the federal government released 5,000 extra visas, but those workers never arrived due to the coronavirus. This year, the federal government has increased the number of H-2B visas by 22,000, on top of the normal allotment of 66,000. Hopefully, the extra visas will help buoy a labor market still trying to recover from the coronavirus.
Blue crabs get bigger through the season, with the largest ones coming out of the water in late August and early September. Prices for steamed crabs and crab cakes should stabilize once local crabbers begin bringing in more stock in June and July. Crab isn’t the only seafood impacted by shortages. Shrimp, snow crab, and catfish are also in short supply.
Until then, diners will just have to pay more for that crab cake or order something else.