If you’re looking to enjoy some blue crab this summer, you may have a tough time getting your hands on some. The whole hard-shell crab and picked crabmeat market price has been so high that restaurants are bumping up their menu prices, and some, like Clyde’s and Woodmont Grill, have taken crab cakes off their menus completely.
Greg Casten, owner of the DC-based wholesale seafood company ProFish, speculates that the cold start to the fishing season and coronavirus H2-B worker visa ban kept migrant crab fishers from getting an early start in the Chesapeake Bay. While the weather has warmed up and visa restrictions have been relaxed, crab fishers haven’t been able to catch enough crab to meet the high consumer demand. ProFish is currently paying between $35 and $44 per pound of Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat, depending on the size selection. Casten says the market price is double what he’s seen in his history selling crab.
Bart Farrell, the vice president of food and beverage at Clyde’s Restaurant Group, says that this has not only been one of the “poorest crab seasons” on the Chesapeake Bay, but there’s a shortage of crab from in other prime crab-picking locations such as Venezuela and the Gulf of Mexico. He’s seen the market price of fresh jumbo lump crabmeat to skyrocket 300 percent over the past few weeks. As a result, Clyde’s has removed crab cakes—their number one seller—from their menus. “We could not, in good conscience, raise the price to the point needed to offset the impact on both the cost and fishery,” Farrell says.
Bethesda Crab House is one of the many restaurants that have increased their menu prices to compensate for the high market price. Yen Lee, the general manager at the Bethesda spot, said that he was paying $18 to $20 for a pound of Maryland jumbo lump crab meat a few months ago. Now, the cost is nearly $60. Despite raising the cost of a dozen medium crabs to $110, Lee doesn’t see his business having trouble with keeping customers coming through the door. “There’s always a high demand for blue crabs,” he said. “I just have to spend a little more for the good product.”
On the other hand, chef Alex McCoy, of the Lucky’s Crab House pop-up at Union Market, is still charging his regular all-you-can-eat price of $50 per person, despite paying about $240 for a bushel of medium and large crabs. He thinks he can maintain the restaurant at this price, but it may difficult for him if crab prices go up even more. “You’re paying $100 for a dozen crabs at most crab houses right now, so I don’t feel right trying to charge people $150 or $200 for all-you-can-eat,” he says. Lucky’s is serving customers a combination of medium and large crabs, as well as a variety of sides to keep the prices reasonable.
Casten thinks it’s a possibility that crab prices may not come down anytime soon, and that it may be a while before some restaurants offer crab again. “It’ll probably be a little bit more exclusive to have a crab cake,” he says.