D.C. Restaurants Face Mussel Shortage Due to Frozen Waters

Mussels, Brasserie Beck

If you want mussels this weekend, you're probably out of luck. The cold temperature have frozen over East Coast waters that supply much of region's shellfish.

John Rorapaugh, the Sustainable Director for one of the area's biggest seafood suppliers Profish, can't recall anything like what he's seen over the last few weeks because of the sustained cold weather and low salinity. "It's an anomaly because of the ice," he says. "All shellfish, we've had the worst two or three weeks that I've seen in a long time... It's affected the whole Eastern seaboard."

While sometimes Profish may have trouble getting one type of shellfish, he can't recall a time when the scarcity has been so widespread. "Never have I seen where lobsters, clams, mussels, and oysters are all affected in the same three week period," he says. "It's happened. It's happened right now."

About three weeks ago, Profish had particular trouble sourcing New England lobsters, causing prices to spike around 50 percent. Two weeks ago, East Coast oysters were in short supply. "There was a week there where we couldn't get any East Coast oysters at all," Rorapaugh says. Instead, they brought in oysters from the West Coast. Now, local oysters are starting to trickle in a little bit.

As of two or three days ago, the shipment of mussels from farms in Maine and Prince Edward Island has pretty much screeched to a halt. "We have a couple [bags] here that came in, but you might as well say nothing," Rorapaugh says. "If we have 100 restaurants trying to order a couple bags a piece tonight, none of them are going to get them unfortunately." Mussel prices went up 30 to 40 percent in the past week. "It's not even that. People would pay whatever if we could get them," he says. "We're not getting them."

Expect a lot of clams to be 86ed off menus this weekend as well. Even local Chesapeake bay fish—like rockfish and croaker—has been affected, since it's become difficult for fishermen to get out.

Rorapaugh is hoping that the ice clears up next week. "It's just all up to mother nature," he says. He went out on a Maryland state-run ice breaker earlier this week and filmed a video of the conditions. Check it out here:

Photo by Darrow Montgomery