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Nov 4, 2011 07:17 AM

Where to all the Chesapeake crabs go?

I know that in recent years, the population of Chesapeake crabs has fallen dramatically from past decades, but recent articles indicate that the populations are the healthiest they've been in over a decade, and I think I read somewhere that over 50 million crabs were harvested last year. Despite the millions of crabs, there doesn't seem to be a single restaurant in Baltimore that exclusively serves Maryland crabs. The common excuse seems to be that restaurants can't get a steady supply to meet demand, but I find it so hard to believe that 50 million crabs a year can't help to satisfy the need of at least one restaurant. Where do all those crabs go?

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  1. That term "excusively serves Maryland crabs" is the key. If you are a crab house that operates year round, then you will have supply problems come December thru April!!!
    The establishment must have a steady source of supply, so if the crab house has a "contract" with a supplier in Texas, then that supplier is going to want to supply you year round, not just the months that Maryland crabs aren't avaiable. You may be able to supplement your supply with Maryland crabs during the Maryland crab season, but exclusivity for Md. crabs is tough!!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Hue

      Is there any difference between a blue crab from Md and one from elsewhere?

      1. re: tartuffe

        There is a flavor and size difference. MD crabmeat is smaller and sweeter, whereas Asian crabmeat is larger and less flavorful.

        That being said, putting aside the seasonal challenges of operating a year-round crab house, please let me know of restaurants in Baltimore that serve crabs and/or crabcakes that are locally sourced during the season. I can't think of a single one. I know places like Gunnings supplement their supply with local crabs when available, but I've yet to find a crabcake that's advertised as using MD crabmeat.

        1. re: socaldiner

          I have had MD crabs all season but I get them carry-out. Conrads Crabs and Blakes both catch and steam their own, Coveside Crabs catching their own but only sells live crabs.

          1. re: socaldiner

            Maryland crab and Asian crab is not the whole story. Maryland blue crab is the same species as the blue crab found elsewhere on the east coast of North America (North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas...). Maryland crab will taste different than blue crab from other places because the water is different, but all of the North American blue crab meat is way better than the alternatives.

            Eating whole steamed crabs you don't have to worry about the inferior (but cheaper) Asian crab meat, 'cause it's a different species and doesn't look the same. You're more likely to run into the Asian crab meat in crabcakes.

            We also get crabmeat from Venezuela, which is another species. I rate it inferior to North American blue crab, but not nearly as flavorless as the Asian crab meat. It's possible that one of the reasons the Asian crabmeat is way inferior is that it is pasteurized (at least I've never seen fresh Asian crabmeat here).

            1. re: Hal Laurent

              Asian swimmer crabmeat - blehk!

              1. re: Hal Laurent

                It's interesting - the comment about Asian crab meat being pasteurized = losing flavor and whatnot. Could be. I don't know how a side-by-side comparison between fresh Maryland blue crab and various fresh East/SE Asian crabs would pan out but I would mention here that fresh crabs (at least the "favored" varieties) in SE Asia and Hong Kong & etc (from local waters) does not seem to receive anything but raves from those who have sampled them.

              2. re: socaldiner

                Cantler's near Annapolis catches their own too - but I think they supplement with non-Chesapeake Bay crabs to keep up with the demand.

          2. There are several factors that go into rising and falling crab populations within the Chesapeake Bay. There's dredging, skate populations (they prey upon blue crabs) and lots more than just the ones I named. If you want to know more, I'd suggest picking up a book called "Beautiful Swimmers" ( and it will give you a great insight into not only crabs, but Chesapeake culture.

            6 Replies
            1. re: NaptownRugger

              Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population has increased substantially for the second straight year. The results of the most recent winter dredge survey show a dramatic 60% increase in Maryland’s crab population. The survey indicates that 2008 management measures put into place through a historic collaboration with Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are continuing to pay dividends with the crab population at its highest level since 1997.

              Due to new regulations and guidelines

              1. re: agarnett100

                I've lived on Kent Island 40 plus years, and ever since I was a kid I was interested in crabs and crabbing and cooking them. I've learned a few things from the locals and crabbers here.
                From the watermen it's that the crab populaion runs in natural cycles that they have been telling people about since the turn of the century. When the populations of certain predators are at their height I.E. rockfish, blue's ect. . They eat so many of the young crabs that the population is thinned. The D&R count every spring is taken by divers to see how many adults they can find in the mud banks where the crabs hibernate. They never take into consideration the rise or fall of the predator populations. So the D&R population counts in the spring are VERY misleading to what the actual crab count will be each season. Does this help?

                1. re: Scott0

                  Acutally, the winter population estimates correlate well with actual harvests. I always suspected that waterman claims that rockfish were eating the crabs was a ploy to raise quotas for rockfish harvesting. That said, it is true that to proper manage a fishery one must consider predator prey relationships.

                  1. re: jfish

                    Hee hee hee , A ploy? by a waterman? Surely sir you jest! I gotta say that as a whole the watermen I know including in my family are some of the most honest and hardworking people I know. They commonly say very little..............but whence they do one should listen. Ok yeah they will do anything to avoid dont we all?

                      1. re: jfish

                        Hee hee hee, No offense taken! I understand and appreciate Jfish's thoughts because I used to think the same. Even with Watermen in the family! But as I've learned, what they say as a whole "watermen" needs to be listened too. Mayhap filtered at times but trust me. Whom is closer to the natural ebb and flow of the bay?Whom is out there every morning at 3:30 am to whenever......watching and seeing the bay and it's cycles?........ The watermen. They study the bay, each cove and bank. Yeah to most they seem a very closed mouth lot. But they have thier reasons. The questions we ask of them would take hours to answer. And we wouldnt fully understand the answers anyway without thier background. Hee hee, Try asking an Auto mechanic why solid lifters are a more effiecient choice than hydraulic lifters in the camshaft train in your engine! Would you understand the answer? Just saying and again no offense taken...........