Faces of the Bay: Nick & Kristen Crook of The Best Crabs Seafood Co.

The husband-and-wife team of Nick and Kristen Crook have worked together for more than 30 years to sell crabs to the residents of Ocean City, Maryland. But the way they accomplish this is through a monumental effort that stretches from Annapolis to the Atlantic Coast.

The Crooks own Ocean City’s The Best Crabs Seafood Co., along the Coastal Highway just south of Fenwick Island. All their crabs are caught fresh locally daily by Nick on his boat, Diamondback, far away on the western shore of the bay. He sets up pots from the Bay Bridge to the mouth of the West River.

Every morning, Nick unloads the boat in Whitehall Bay, packs up the crabs and he or one of his crew takes them to Ocean City – about 90 miles one way. During crab season, Nick lives on Kent Island, while Kristen stays in Ocean City, near the crab market. It’s a difficult task for a married couple, but Nick says: ‘We try to spend at least one or two nights a week together.’

Nick Crook has always worked on the water. “It was inevitable that I would become an Aquarius,” he says. Crook started out as a crabber, helping his father, Billy, on his commercial crab boat. “While my father worked on the water, I had a little path paved for me,” he says. “When I graduated from high school and had to decide what I wanted to do, scratching felt like a simple choice. I had been doing it for years and just enjoyed it.”

Crook graduated from high school and immediately bought his first work boat. The Gina Marie was a 43 foot fiberglass deadrise and he worked her on the water for years, eventually upgrading to his current boat, diamondback, a custom deadrise from boat builders Terry and Hunter Daisey on Tilghman Island.

“I always wanted a boat built to my specifications,” says Crook. “Hunter and I have been good friends since high school, so when the opportunity arose to have one built, I jumped at it.”

Diamondback is a beautiful boat: with high sides and a large bow there are not many water conditions off-limits for Nick and his crew, making everyday crabbing easy.

According to Crook, crabs are not necessarily a lucrative market. Even though a bushel of large crabs can sell for $250 each weekend in July, crabbers only see a small portion of that. “You’ll never get rich as a crabber,” he says. “We have to pay for bait, gas, crew and equipment. There are so many costs associated with a day of crabbing. But if it is done right, you can live comfortably.”

The crabbing industry is an industry where market prices are not keeping pace with inflation, and Crook said the same is true for the oyster industry. “I used to oyster,” he says, “but it’s just not worth it to me. It is very hard work to earn little money.”

In 2020, Nick and Kristen acquired The Best Crabs Seafood Co. about. When they got engaged, it made sense to keep Kristen’s family business alive and continue the fishing shop. With Kristen running the business and Nick catching the crabs, the two have found an entrepreneurial balance. “It can be a lot to manage,” says Crook. Besides the typical problems you experience as a crabber and small business owner, he says, “During the peak season, I don’t see my wife much. I have to take a day off every now and then to spend time with her. Crook’s goal is to work hard enough in the summer so that they can take the winter off and spend it together.

The Best Crabs Co. was Kristen Crook’s family business before she and Nick took over. Photo: Jay Fleming

“We have about 100 days to earn 90% of our income,” he says. “It seems like a tall order, but if you keep your head down and stay focused, you can do it.”

Despite the problems, Nick says, “I love what I do. I’ve been crabbing for over 25 years and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

You can find Nick’s catch and chat with Kristen at The Best Crabs Seafood Co., located on 142nd Street Bayside, Ocean City.