FENWICK ISLAND — Picture them laid out on a brown paper-wrapped picnic table: Steaming hot Maryland blue crabs, covered in Old Bay.
Add to that fresh corn on the cob, steamed shrimp, fried chicken and hush puppies, with steam rising off the whole setup.
Is your mouth watering yet? It’s crab season at the beach, and that means families will flock to crab houses across the Shore, ordering them by the dozen.
Best of all, this year the crabs are bigger, more plentiful and cheaper.
“Crabbers are doing good. Right now the supply is overwhelming,” said Danny Webster, a waterman who works out of Deal Island.
He buys from crabbers and sells to restaurants.
“Down here, there’s so many crabs. The other day a man got 400 bushels in his cooler. They’re catching more than the market can stand,” he said.
John Oleksak, a manager at Higgins Crab House in Ocean City, said because the supply is so high and demand not as great, they just lowered their prices on bushels and half bushels by $10.
“(There’s) plenty of supply right this second,” he said.
Oleksak said at Higgins, the first couple weeks of June are not typically very busy, but business picks up once all students are home for the summer.
“Then we start seeing some families. You’ll see more of a demand. These prices should hold for at least a couple weeks. Who knows, we may even see them go down a little,” he said.
At Higgins, you’re not stuck getting them cheaper by the dozen. You can actually buy a single crab.
And “every once in a while,” he said, “somebody does because they want to try it.”
At Bahama Mama’s restaurant, manager Ron Rick said employees will individually weigh each crab to make sure they’re nice and full, and grade them.
If employees find a crab that’s not up to snuff, they’ll use it for all-you-can-eat instead of by-the-dozen.
“We have a pretty good reputation in town for having the biggest,” he said. “We get a lot of all-you-can-eat people, but the majority come to get the big crabs.”
Rick said the Bahama Mama’s experience is “a crab-eriffic time.”
“It’s a summertime event when you come down here for crabs.” he said.
At Hooper’s Crab House in West Ocean City, manager Patrick Brady said they’re having a great crab season.
“The crabs are nice and heavy and plentiful. As the season goes on, too, they get a lot heavier. They’re real nice and full,” he said.
Brady said lately more people are wanting bigger crabs by the dozen, so they’re offering extra-large, jumbos and colossal by the dozen and half-dozen.
Wait, did he say “colossal?”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re big. About three-quarters of a pound per crab.”
Brady said more of his customers are simply asking for a great batch of 12 crabs rather than signing up for the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat crab feast.
“And then you have your people that wanna come down, sit for a couple hours and just enjoy themselves,” he said. “Picking crabs is almost more of a social thing. You come out with some friends, drink a couple beers, sit around and eat crabs, and have a good time.”
Because of the mild weather this winter, watermen and seafood retailers have said they started seeing blue crabs earlier than normal.
“It’s all about the (water) temperature in the bay,” Webster said. “It’ll bring the soft crabs a week to 10 days earlier.”
Environmental officials on the Shore say water temperatures were about 10 degrees higher this year than last. The warmer winter most likely affected marine life, according to fisheries officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Erich Messer, kitchen manager at Crab Alley in West Ocean City, said he orders blue crab from local waters whenever he can. So far, he said this season has been one of the very best.
“We’re getting a lot more and a lot bigger local crabs for this time of year,” he said. “We were seeing guys come in with crabs earlier this year than we’ve ever had them.”