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A tough winter hits blue crab population hard

Saturday - 5/10/2014, 2:34am  ET

Blue crabs (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)
The particularly harsh and long winter has taken a toll on the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population. The number of spawning-age females has fallen below the minimum safe level. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

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WASHINGTON -- The Chesapeake Bay blue crab is ordinarily a mainstay of summer plates in the mid-Atlantic region. But this season, the tradition has become a rather expensive taste.

After a particularly harsh and long winter, the blue crab population has decreased significantly. Shoppers looking to satisfy their craving also have noticed smaller crabs for sale.

The low water temperatures over the winter led to one of the worst cold-kill events on record, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said last week.

Its annual Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, which the department has taken since 1990, estimated that 28 percent of adult crabs in Maryland died as a result of the cold.

The markets are beginning to feel the effects of the limited supply.

"They've definitely been small so far, and not a whole lot of availability," says Stan Kiser, crab manager at Jesse Taylor Seafood on the Southwest Waterfront.

"I think the biggest thing we've seen with customers is instead of buying half- bushels, you're buying one or two dozen because of the price," he says.

The going rate for a dozen blue crabs at his stand is $18. Half-bushels cost $65.

"If you're not catching a whole lot, you've got to make your money somewhere," Kiser says. "You're going to have to raise prices."

The Maryland DNR's survey showed the population of spawning-age females had dropped below the minimum safe level in the Chesapeake.

Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are working on a plan to restore the blue crab population.

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