Despite a chilly winter that slowed the start of soft-shell crab season, the critters have started showing up just in time for the annual Soft Shell Crab Festival in Port Royal on Saturday.
"We haven't had them but two days," Sea Eagle Market owner Craig Reaves said. "We got our first ones in on Tuesday."
Area crabbers were expecting the peelers to show up as late as next week, he said. That's unusually late for Beaufort, Reaves added, as soft-shell crabs usually show up anywhere from the beginning to the end of March.
At Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks on Hilton Head Island, the soft-shell crabs -- blue crabs that have molted their hard shells -- first became available Tuesday, general manager Andrew Carmines said. Special shedding boxes with a water circulation system are used, and the crabs are watched night and day.
It's a system used by crabbers around the county, Carmines said.
He's already received calls from half-a-dozen restaurants wanting to buy extra soft-shells and willing to pay up to $6 per crab. That's steep compared to the $3.75 Carmines said he paid two years ago, before Hudson's started cultivating soft-shells.
Old Village Association president Nancy Plank said the slow start to the season had some people worried.
"They were saying 'Oh, we might have to get frozen ones,' and that just wouldn't be the same as fresh," she said.
Whether the slow start will have any affect on prices at the festival remains to be seen, she said. About a dozen food vendors will be at the festival selling everything from lemonade to crabs, and they will set their own prices.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.