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Will Gulf Spill Hike MD Crab Prices? Wait And See

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Crab lovers will have to wait to see whether crab prices during Memorial Day weekend will be affected by the Gulf oil spill.
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Crab lovers will have to wait to see whether crab prices during Memorial Day weekend will be affected by the Gulf oil spill.

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) For those of you wondering how the Gulf oil spill will affect the price of your Memorial Day crab feast, the answer is wait and see.

While losing supply from Louisiana could drive up prices, fears over tainted crabs also could hurt demand.

The federal government has shut down fishing in Louisiana for at least 10 days from the Mississippi River to northwestern Florida, a move that was applauded by the head of Louisiana's seafood marketing board for helping to assure consumers the state's seafood is safe.

Jason Ruth, who buys Louisiana oysters and crabs for Harris Seafood in Grasonville, said they will be hard to replace because the Chesapeake Bay crabbing season is just getting under way and Louisiana is a consistent source of large, high-quality crabs.

Neighboring states like Texas also produce crabs, but not as much as Louisiana, which ships 2,000 bushels a day to Maryland, Ruth said.

"Anytime you take that amount of resource out of play, it's got to be affecting the prices some. To what extent, that's yet to be seen," Ruth said.

Estimates of a sharply higher Chesapeake Bay crab population have also not translated yet into dock landings that could affect prices, he said.

"It could be, but you never did hear in the announcement about 60 percent more crabs in the bay whether they were harvestable crabs, or immature crabs," Ruth said, adding that "those number don't mean a thing until you actually take them out of the bay."

Sue DuPont, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said state seafood marketing officials note much of the impact depends on how long Louisiana's seafood production is affected.

Jack Brooks of the J.M. Clayton Company in Cambridge said he has given up trying to predict the crab market.

"I used to try to make predictions, but that was crash and burn," Brooks said.

The price for female crabs on Monday, for example, was up $5 dollars a bushel, but he added the increase was not unusual for early May with Mother's Day and Memorial Day coming up. Ruth said he had not noticed any increase in crab prices yet, but oyster prices were up sharply on Monday, with 100 pound sack of oysters rising from $29 to $35.

The spill could increase demand for local crabs, or it could put people off seafood altogether, Brooks said, adding he has heard from sellers of customers asking more about the source of the seafood they are buying.

"You know, this is a hard call to make," Brooks said. "It could cool the demand some, I mean, if people are not sure."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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