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Seasons Change

Crabs and osprey in, oysters and swans out

In Chesapeake Country, creatures define seasons more accurately than weather. Crabs and osprey are the creatures of this season, even now replacing oysters and tundra swans on the calendar of Chesapeake life. Each comes, and goes, with fanfare.
    The opening of crab season on April 1 means gustatory delight for lovers of the crustacean and the renewal of income for crabbers. Along the Bay and rivers, watermen ready their pots and trotlines for a long season that extends into December, overlapping oyster season. Meanwhile, crabs are crawling out of the mud, though our ricocheting weather has sent some of the cold-blooded creatures digging right back in, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ just completed winter dredge survey.
    The emergers will be mostly male, as females typically migrate to the mouth of the Bay to lay their eggs. Though crabs are likely to be sluggish in water around 50 degrees, crabbers are already putting out their pots.
    Oysters continue to live and grow in the Chesapeake all year long, but the season of harvesting in the wild ends each year on March 31. The date is set to leave our favorite bivalve unmolested during the warmer months of spawning.
    The season ended with good news for oysters. The Maryland General Assembly voted to keep oyster sanctuaries closed to harvesting for at least two more years, pending the conclusions of a statewide oyster status report due at the end of 2018.
    Sanctuaries are a big part of the state plan to bring back sustainable populations of native oysters. Oystermen, themselves an endangered species, hope to harvest sanctuary oysters every few years. The key question — whether harvesting or living undisturbed to develop reefs makes more future oysters — is still to be scientifically resolved.
    Aquacultured oysters are harvested year-round, but wild oyster season remains closed until October 1.
    In the air, swan season overlapped osprey season by a few weeks this year. The earliest osprey returned from their winter quarters, in the Caribbean and South America, in the last week of February. By now nests are occupied and the air full of them as they fish and begin a new generation.
    Trumpeter swans stubbornly stayed put until late in March, filling up on shallow Bay grasses and mollusks before flying 4,000 miles to the Arctic tundra via the Great Lakes.