"Right now, it's an OK supply," said John Ecker, a manager at the 5-year-old establishment, which is supplementing the crabs caught by owner Tony Conrad with shipments from farther south in the bay.

"We're still taking orders for all week," Ecker said. "We're not cutting anything off yet."

Ocean Pride Restaurant & Carryout in Lutherville is still taking orders, said Cheryl Hutchison, with per-dozen prices running from $42 for mediums to $95 for jumbos; and from $199 per bushel for mediums to $279 for large ones.

In Odenton, Crab Galley manager Vinny Glasgow assured he has "tons" of crabs, a mix of locally caught and those trucked in. Prices range from $31 per dozen or $189 per bushel for mediums to $49 a dozen and $235 per bushel for large males.

The outlook at crab restaurants is just as variable.

At Nick's Fish House and Grill on the Middle Branch in South Baltimore, general manager David Acquarulo said the menu is "fully stocked" and predicted the eatery will have all sizes throughout the holiday week. All the medium and large crabs are locally caught, he said, while the extra-larges and jumbos come from the South, mostly Louisiana. Prices run from $54 per dozen for mediums to $98 for jumbos.

At Ships Cafe Restaurant and Crab House in Catonsville, co-owner Jim Andrews said that like most year-round eateries, he has also relied on Louisiana for a steady supply of the large crabs favored by restaurant patrons. His per-dozen prices run from $30 for smalls up to $105 for jumbos, which, he said, are large enough that most customers only can eat a half-dozen.

Though Louisiana crabs were plentiful early in spring, he said, sources have largely dried up, forcing him to scramble for some from Texas. Even so, he estimated he's getting less than half than he did a year ago.

"Last year I used to call my suppliers and tell them how many boxes of crabs I wanted," Andrews said. "This year, they call me and tell me how many I'm getting."

William Sieling, executive director of the Chesapeake Seafood Industries Association, said that despite this crab season's slow start, he's hopeful that "there'll probably be enough to go around."

The wild card may be the power outages that hit the Baltimore and Washington areas over the weekend. People without electricity and air conditioning may not be thinking much about crabs, Sieling said, so if many remain without power through the week, demand could be depressed enough to ensure an ample supply for those still in the market for a feast.

While Baltimore crab eaters may be at the mercy of higher-priced dealers, Sieling predicted that customers elsewhere ought to be able to get a bushel of large males for $130 to $150.

Still, he urged consumers not to wait until the last minute and to buy from suppliers they know.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that people will not get gouged and they'll get enough," he concluded.

However things turn out for the Fourth, DNR's Davis said that with so many little crabs in the bay, consumers just need to be patient and wait for them to grow up.

"We ought to have a good fall," Davis said, suggesting a new Maryland feast tradition: "Football and crabs."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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