Crab Supply Pricing Out Del. Restaurants as Some Crabbers Find Success Another Way

COVID pandemic restrictions caused issues with the supply chain to restaurants while direct-to-consumer sales soared last year. The start of the blue crab season this year has come with high prices from wholesalers, restaurateurs say.

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Editor's Note: The shortages in this story have eased. Check with your favorite crab restaurant to see if they have crabs back in stock. For example, here's the Mrs. Robino's menu ...

For many Delaware families, summer means picnic tables full of steamed blue claw crabs or crab cake dinners at a favorite restaurant. But this summer, those same crabs will cost much higher prices, if you can find them at all while dining out.

Mrs. Robino’s, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington, for example, has temporarily cancelled their popular Thursday crab nights because of problems getting enough crab meat and the cost with the crab they can get their hands on.

"Now, it’s to the point where it’s just so expensive, it’s like tripled in price just about," Andrea Wakefield of Mrs. Robino's said.

Two issues are playing havoc with blue crab in Delaware: supply chain disruptions still upending shipping of crabs from places like Louisiana and North Carolina, where the crabs are caught in the winter months; and more locally, an inability to find crabbing manpower in the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland and Delaware. The Chesapeake Bay crabbing industry also got off to a slow start this year due to lower numbers of adult crabs, but experts say that it isn't a dire situation longterm.

The problems have combined to create a shortage and high prices for restaurants.

That doesn't mean the crabs are impossible to find: crab fishermen in places like New Jersey say direct-to-consumer sales have remained strong to start the 2021 shore season after those types of transactions filled a void during the pandemic year of 2020 when many restaurants were shut down or has severely limited seating.

Ron Meischker, a commercial crabber in South Jersey who owns Somers Point Crab Company, said his business has thrived through the pandemic because he brings his catch directly to consumers.

"Last year was a great year for crabbing. Due to the pandemic when a lot of restaurants were closed or had limited capacity, people were looking for something different to eat at home with their families," Meischker said. "Crabs were something people were getting excited about."

When Meischker would go out on a morning trip to pick up some of his 200 traps, he livestreamed the fishing and people loved it.

"I'd look down and there'd be 200 people watching our live video at 6 in the morning," he said, adding that crabbing during the current season started off a bit slow but has picked up. "The demand is high as ever and the supply has been down as of late, but I don’t see a significant drop-off. I could always use more crab."

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