North Carolina Sea Grant
Mariner's Menu

Mariner's Menu

September 17, 2009 | Barry Nash

seafood traditions


Our state’s Atlantic blue crab processing industry is undergoing an unprecedented transformation. Over forty processors operated in coastal North Carolina in 1995.  Today that number is 14.

Imported crab meat from Asia and South America has taken a great deal of market share from domestic businesses during the last decade.  Price has been a deciding factor among consumers as the cost of imported crab meat can be cheaper by $4 or more a pound.

Picking crabs is very labor-intensive and legal immigrants on temporary visas comprise the major of the workforce in this seafood sector; however, temporary visas have been extremely hard to come by for our industry the last two years.

Inconsistency in the supply of picking crabs during the summer and fall seasons impacts processors’ bottom line as well.  To remain competitive, processors ship live hard crabs to the “basket market” in the northern Virginia and Maryland where there has been an established tradition of eating fresh-cooked, whole crabs in restaurant trade.


Due to natural supply fluctuations, you will find fresh, hand-picked Atlantic blue crab meat in coastal retail seafood outlets and restaurants in-season.  Processors pasteurize Atlantic blue crab meat during the summer months for sale in the winter and spring.

Be sure to check your supplier’s state certification number to identify the vendor and origin of your crab meat. Cherish your fresh, hand-picked North Carolina crab meat whenever available.

Contributed by Barry Nash
Based on interviews with Don Cross of Pamlico Packing Company and Steve Murphey of NC Shellfish Sanitation – Morehead City office

3 responses to “The North Carolina Atlantic Blue Crab Industry”

  1. Deborah Dixon says:

    Hello – I wanted to ask what the current number of crab houses is (2010), and why the recent difficulty over getting H-2B visas? Thanks.

  2. Barry Nash says:

    According to the NC Department of Environment & Natural Resources, one of the state agencies that regulates crab processors, 12 businesses were certified in 2010 to process crabmeat. The difficulty the processors have had in securing visas for foreign laborers had to do with larger security concerns in Washington, DC about approving the travel of foreign nationals to the United States. This year, visas have been easier for the industry to obtain.

  3. Deborah Dixon says:

    Thank you! This is such a shame; many of the smaller plants strove so hard to maintain profitability. I wonder, is there a way to access the number certified per year and to map them out across space? I speak as a geographer here. I’ve gone to the NC Dept of Env and Nat Res web-page but can’t find such in-depth stats.