N.C. blue crab stocks flourish, but Hurricane Florence wiped out infrastructure

North Carolina’s blue crab season got off to a good start, but was slammed when Hurricane Florence hit in September and was expected to rebound as 2018 came to a close.

“Some crabbers lost everything, and several packing operations were completely destroyed. It’s been a very tough year for the industry in general,” said Glenn Skinner, executive director of the North Carolina Fisheries Association.

However, preliminary figures indicate the blue crab fishery came out better than expected.

“All in all, 2018 was a great crab year for us,” says Dylan Dunbar, manager of Paradise Shores Seafood in Pamlico County. “Around here, crabbing usually slacks off in early July, when Maryland and Virginia markets pick up, and the prices drop. Many pull their pots and wait for things to pick up after the new year.”

Not so for many crabbers to the south, where the devastation from Florence was more extensive and took a toll on the area’s fish houses.

The 2018 Semi-Annual Commercial Landings Bulletin (January-June) indicates a decrease in blue crab landings, down from 8 million pounds landed in 2017 to 5.8 million for the same period this year.

Final figures for hard crabs in 2017 totaled 18.7 million pounds at a value of $17.8 million. Data available for 2018 include landings through September 2018 at 13.5 million pounds, three months short of the yearly total.

Both 2017 and 2018 seasons opened with local dealers paying an average of $2.75 for jimmy crabs and $1.75 for females. Selling prices ranged from $2.25 to $3.50. Prices historically decline in early July, when Virginia and Maryland crab seasons pick up.

While North Carolina crabbers aren’t unhappy with this year’s landings, there are hopes 2019 will get back on track with increased landings.

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Maureen Donald is a freelance correspondent for National Fisherman.

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