- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Crab fanciers should be prepared to shell out a few extra dollars this summer.
Hard-shell crab catches in the Chesapeake Bay have hit their lowest levels since 1996, and restaurants across the region are increasing prices to make up for rising costs.
"Almost every restaurant has put a surcharge on, or some of them just raise prices automatically," said Buddy Harrison, owner of Harrison's Chesapeake House in Tilghman, Md.
Mr. Harrison said he is charging between $3 and $5 more than last year for crab dishes.
A Maryland Department of National Resources report revealed that crab catches are running behind the average of the past eight years. The harvest of hard crabs in April and May was 1.3 million pounds, down from 1.8 million last year. The eight-year average is 1.6 million. Restaurant owners say they are paying between 25 percent and 30 percent more for crabs than last year, and it's forcing them look elsewhere.
Managers at the Dancing Crab in the District said they now serve about 75 percent to 80 percent Maryland crab. Other restaurants are shifting even more.
"We're getting most of our crabs from North Carolina now, actually," said Bonnie Blair, a manager at Mike's Crab House in Riva, Md. Miss Blair said her restaurant began getting more crabs from outside Maryland after last year's catch, which was a record low. And some restaurant managers say the size and taste of Maryland crabs has been subpar this year.
"The quality from the Bay just is not there," said Andrew Ackerman, manager at Buddy's Crabs and Ribs in Annapolis. "The Maryland crab and the North Carolina crab are the exact same crab."
Meanwhile, overall business at crab and seafood restaurants is down, restaurant managers say, as word of higher prices has spread.
"What I have seen is people not show up," said Robert Frasier, manager of Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis. "Everyone says things are bad, so everyone thinks things are bad, so everything turns out to be bad."
Mr. Frasier said Cantler's has not raised prices significantly, and said he believes the crab shortage is overblown.
"I think it's not as bad as people thought," he said. "I heard what most everybody heard, but I look at our prices now and our prices are just the same as they've been."
Mr. Fraiser's view would support arguments from watermen and seafood processors, who say the DNR report is inaccurate. But the situation at Cantler's appears to be an exceptional case. Restaurant owners say they've done what they can to keep prices from going up too much, but even small increases are affecting business.
"We're noticing that [customers] are ordering more shrimp and so forth," Mr. Harrison said. "They have stopped eating crab."

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