The phones are ringing off the hook at all the crab meat-picking houses from Maryland through the Carolinas and into the Gulf of Mexico. The full effect of the Venezuelan closure is being felt this week. Domestic fresh crab meat prices, in general, are currently slightly less than those of comparable pasteurized picks.
There’s a significant disparity in the capacity of domestic picking houses to produce meat compared to the picking houses on Lake Maracaibo. The average picking house in the United States has about 20 pickers. Some houses are smaller, and some are larger. The average picker is paid five dollars per pound and picks about 30 pounds of meat per day.
So, if you do the math, each plant averages about 600 pounds of meat being picked per day. Contrast this with a plant in Venezuela that has an average of 400 pickers. If the pickers pick the same amount of meat, each plant produces about 12,000 pounds of meat per day.
It’s a challenging business model for domestic picking houses these days. They compete for raw materials with the hard crab market, and at certain times of the year, they cannot afford to pick the crabs because they are too expensive. This time of year, the hard crab market is very slow, so the picking houses can purchase raw materials at a reasonable price. They can sell every pound they pick for the next seven weeks. Soon after that, the crabs will bury themselves in the mud for the winter.