York County traditionally kicks off summertime during Memorial Day weekend with swimming, cookouts and, of course, Maryland crabs.
But Jeff Jurkowski, the owner of Jeff's Got Crabs & Seafood in Springettsbury Township, said this year's season is off to a slow start and supply is tight.
Crabs burrowed underground for the winter and chilly spring and are now making their way to safety to slough off their shells.
They don't actively feed during this process, and it takes a lot out of them, he said, so they tend to be light and hollow once they grow into their new shells. Unfortunately, they will molt this weekend.
And a light crab does not taste nearly as good as a heavy crab, Jurkowski said.
He said he just got a shipment of heavy crabs before the molt, so it would be a good idea to order early this weekend to get the best pickings.
Local stores: York County crab houses are feeling the pinch of the low-supply, high-demand market.
"We generally try to only carry Maryland crabs," Jurkowski said, but on holidays, there are never enough to go around.
Most of the crabs he has are from the Potomac River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. He is also expecting crabs from North Carolina and Louisiana this weekend.
The overall Maryland crab population has been cut in half this year by high mortality rates, according to survey results. As a result, the market has seen a 30 percent increase in wholesale costs, he said, and his have risen about $50 per bushel.
But with last year's enormous juvenile population, he said, there are bound to be lots of catchable crabs later this season, which could
lower prices through increased supply.
"Personally, I think it's going to be a really good year," he said.
His business opened in West York early last year and moved to the east end in July when it began to feature a full seafood menu. He is originally from Maryland and has caught crabs throughout his life.
Order early: Capt. Bob's Crabs is geared up for the start of the season, too.
Jason Price owns the Railroad and Stewartstown locations, and his brother David owns the Red Lion and Manchester locations. The business, in its 29th year, will feature mostly Maryland crabs this weekend, with some from North Carolina and the Gulf Coast. He said the sooner customers order, the better, and some order months ahead.
Quality reputation in the industry is getting harder and harder to find, he said, as crabbers raise prices for holidays. But unless something like an oil spill occurs, Price said, his prices will remain the same throughout the season and decrease if supply increases.
"We're not going to take advantage of (customers) or gouge them just because it's a holiday," he said.
The crab house's prices went up about $3 or $4 a dozen this year, Price said.
He has been in the crab business since he was 7, when his parents opened shop in southern York County. The business was named after Price's uncle, Capt. Bob himself, who was a waterman in Maryland.
"It's just a part of who you are," he said.
But as much as he loves it, he said, business is tough.
"My heart goes out to all the crab houses that are trying to make it," Price said.
-- Reach Mollie Durkin at email@example.com