The cost of crab is at a record high, and it's starting to eat into the profits of local business owners.
"I've been doing business for 30 years. These prices are the highest I've ever seen. I never thought I'd charge $100 for a dozen crab," said David Vought, owner of The Glad Crab at 3086 S. Queen St. in Dallastown.
A long, harsh winter killed about 30 percent of Maryland's crabs, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Virginia and North Carolina are reporting similar shortages, and that strain is driving up wholesale prices throughout the industry.
There's no shortage in Louisiana, where crabbing occurs all year and market prices are set. Restaurant owners are ordering from the Gulf region and said Louisiana crab is $100 more per bushel than it was last year.
"Supply and demand has led to record industry highs," said Jason Price, owner of four Capt. Bob's Crabs in York County.
The restaurant has locations in Manchester, Railroad, Red Lion and Stewartstown.
His restaurant has raised prices $4 per dozen, but he'd have to raise prices by $10 a dozen to break even with wholesale costs, he said.
In York County, prices are starting at $28 a dozen, up from $25 a dozen last year.
"Retail prices are about as high as you can get in this area without turning away the customer," said Jeff Jurkowski, owner of Jeff's Got Crabs and Seafood at 2813 E. Prospect Road in Springettsbury Township.
Restaurant owners are hoping for some wholesale-price relief after Memorial Day, but they say it depends on how much crab is coming out of Maryland and Virginia.
"We'd like to see them drop after this weekend or Father's Day, but I think it's going to be an expensive year," Jurkowski said.
Since late fall, his business has been getting crabs from Louisiana.
Right now, the Maryland crab is small, very pricey and light.
"Prices are outrageous, and the crab isn't great. Louisiana's is more, but it's a nice supply, and you get what you pay for," he said.
The Glad Crab is getting its crab from Louisiana and North Carolina and expects to sell out of it before Memorial Day.
"We have shipments every day, and customers are putting in advance orders. They're still buying it, even if it's a little more. I have customers who enjoy paying $100 for a good dozen and other customers who won't pay more than $75 a bushel," Vought said.
Grocery stores are also paying a higher price, but the market is cyclical, according to spokesmen for Giant and Weis.
"Once the water and weather warm up, the price of crab comes down," said Weis spokesman Dennis Curtin.
But Price isn't so optimistic.
"If crabbers and wholesalers can keep getting more money, they will. I hope I'm wrong, but I think the days of cheap crab are done," he said.
—Reach Candy Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org.