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Crabs Come Back, Crabbers Might Not

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An annual dredging survey shows the Blue Crab may be recovering in the Chesapeake bay.
Sabri Ben-Achour
An annual dredging survey shows the Blue Crab may be recovering in the Chesapeake bay.

By Sabri Ben-Achour

After years of flirting with collapse, an annual dredging survey shows the Blue Crab may be recovering in the Chesapeake bay. But those who harvest for crabs may not make a similar recovery.

Here at the Maine Avenue Fishmarket in Southwest D.C., Blue Crabs go for about $10 a dozen.

But even though there are more Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay than anyone's seen in a decade, don't expect prices here to budge. Doug Lipton is an economist at the University of Maryland.

"The price will be steady over the season but won’t be significantly lower," says Lipton.

There are, after all, other places that produce blue crabs. Lipton says the people who really stand to gain - or lose - from the crab boom are the crabbers.

"The issue for the crabbers is how many people who left the industry come back in," he says.

There are fewer people harvesting crabs these days, so more crabs should mean more profits for them.

"But if instead a lot of the fisherman who've held onto the license and left the industry, that lowers the overall income for everyone else," says Lipton.

Captain Bob Evans has been living off the water since 1970, he doubts anyone will go back to crabbing.

"It's so expensive to get into the industry these days," says Evans.

And he says more crabs won't make up for new restrictions on crabbing, like ending the season months early.

"I would like to know how many other people can afford to take a month off, could you afford to lose four pay checks?," he asks.

But conservationists say those restrictions have made the crab comeback possible, and they aren't likely to be lifted anytime soon.

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