The “Maryland” blue crab is actually the Atlantic blue crab. It is under threat in Maryland on economic, gastronomic, and ecological fronts.
The numbers and size of crabs in the Chesapeake Bay have been on a downward trend at least since the late 80s. Diseases, predation by legally protected rockfish, and loss of habitat have all contributed to the declines. Numbers of watermen (professional Chesapeake Bay fisherman) and crab processors are also decreasing. These skills have historically been passed on from parent to child but fewer and fewer young people choose this lifestyle today.
The import of Asian crabmeat - a different species, the blue swimming crab – provides a stable and steady supply of pasteurized crab meat for restaurants and home use. In addition, a lot of the crabs we eat whole and steamed are Atlantic blue crabs from more southern states, not Maryland. The availability of these imports threatens the smaller Eastern Shore businesses producing fresh crabmeat in Maryland. In the past, when the local crab supply was down, Maryland watermen were able raise the price of blue crab. Now, the wholesale price of blue crab sometimes decreases despite diminishing supplies.
Taste wise, Asian crab meat (or maybe it is the fact that it is pasteurized crab meat) is not the same as “Maryland” crab meat. The blue crabs available for steaming are often smaller than they were years ago. What we call “light weights” are common. Light weights have smaller proportions of meat to shell size and get watery when steamed.
End of whine from a “Maryland” crab lover.