Found this report today in the news:
Aug 15, 2006 8:47 am US/Eastern
Softshell Crabs Scarce This Summer, Watermen Say
(AP) TANGIER SOUND, Md. Softshell crabs, the delicacy that pleases gourmet palates and lines watermen's pockets, are in scarce supply this summer.
"It's up there among the worst seasons. I'll put it that way," said Dwight Marshall, a Smith Island waterman who has crabbed for more than 40 years.
Crabs normally begin shedding their shells in May, starting the softshell crab season which provides the money that helps many watermen make it through the winter. The downturn in the catch this year is particularly tough because of rising fuel prices.
More than 90 percent of the state's soft crabs come from Tangier Sound and nearly every islander's living is tied to the season.
Watermen from the island's three towns of Tylerton, Rhodes Point and Ewell head out every morning to check their traps or dredge the bottom, returning in the afternoon and putting their catch of molting crabs in a tank. The tanks are checked every few hours to see whether the crabs have shed their shells.
Smith Island crabbers usually ship about 25 boxes a day to markets in Crisfield, each box holding up to 18 dozen soft-shells. Last month, the ferry to Crisfield carried about four boxes a trip.
While some say a cold spring may have delayed shedding until later in the summer, others are not so sure.
Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the loss of eelgrass in Tangier Sound this spring deprived juvenile crabs of their shedding habitat.
"If that die-off affected the population in such a way that would be observable, the time you would see it is in the peeler season, which would be now," Goldsborough told The (Baltimore) Sun. "My sense is that it's of a magnitude that it could have a lot of effect."
Marshall, 61, picks through grass in a crab pot that is noticeably absent of the glass shrimp, water fleas and other small creatures crabs feed on and offers another explanation. He blames pollution from sewage treatment plants and other runoff from recent heavy rains which is prompting algae blooms that rob oxygen from the water, killing the crab's prey.
However, recent catches are up, with the ferry once again carrying about 15 boxes a day, raising hopes for a good end to the season.
"You don't really know what kind of year it is until it all winds up and you see what's in the checkbook," Marshall said. "You have to trust in the Lord to supply your needs. I ain't never seen him fail yet."