Bay Life

 Vol. 10, No. 46

November14-20, 2002

Current Issue

Preparing the Feast
Bon Appétit!

Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Chesapeake Outdoors
Not Just for Kids
Bay Life
Eight Days a Week
What's Playing Where
Curtain Call
Music Notes
Sky Watch
Bay Classifieds
Behind Bay Weekly
Advertising Info
Distribution spots
Contact us

~ Eulogy ~ Old Friends and Pastimes
Crabs are their fattest of the year and ours for the taking through December 15. But this dedicated crabber has pulled up his pots.
by Steve Carr ~ photos by David Colburn

You know you’re getting old when people younger than you start dying. I lost an old friend last month to cancer, and it’s got me feeling a bit blue.

At Kevin’s funeral, I ran into a school-teacher buddy who spends his entire summer in the Severn River teaching the boys and girls of Sherwood Forest about the Bay.

We were sitting solemnly together in the Holy Trinity Church, up in Glen Burnie, waiting for the service to begin and contemplating our own tenuous mortality, when I leaned over and asked Billy whether he had been doing much crabbing lately.

He frowned and whispered, “Nah. I never even broke out my crab traps this year. They’re still piled up behind my house.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I never set mine out either.”

Something’s Happening Here
It wasn’t until I returned home later that afternoon that I really had a chance to think about the curious fact that two fellows who normally look forward to crabbing the Severn — two men who measure their summers by the crabs they catch; two middle-aged guys who gauge the health of the Severn, at least in part, by how well the crabs are running — these two middle-aged guys weren’t even going through the motions anymore.

This is not good. When two diehard crabbers decide they aren’t even going to try and do some crabbing, then something ain’t right.

I wish I could say that I was doing this out of some sense of personal sacrifice. But I only catch a few dozen crabs each summer, so it’s not likely that my haul is ever going to make an appreciable difference in the overall crab population of the Chesapeake Bay.

And I wish I could say that I haven’t been crabbing because there are just no crabs to be caught. But that isn’t the case either.

I’ve seen crabs scurrying along the Severn’s muddy bottom and spotted the occasional doubler clinging in a romantic embrace to the pilings on my neighbor’s pier.

The trot-liners tenaciously work the shoreline down in front of my house every day, and as they cruise back and forth along their eel-baited lines, it’s pretty clear that each pass nets only a few keepers. But the crabs are out there. There just aren’t as many as there used to be, and it takes a lot more effort to get a dozen good-sized males.

But they are out there.

Every time I park my truck in the garage, my pots greet me accusingly. They stand stacked against the wall, looking forlorn and out of place.

So why haven’t I put out any crab traps?

I really don’t have a good answer to this important question. Like I said before, the crabs are running in the Severn. But something has made me hang up my crab pots for the season.

That certain something has not, however, prevented me from eating crabs. My family decided a few weeks back that we simply could not go another weekend without crabs, so I trudged over to the Annapolis Seafood Market and bought two dozen Number One Jimmies for something like 80 bucks. I didn’t really care about the price. Chesapeake blue crabs are worth every penny, whatever the market price happens to be that day.

I did, however, get a chuckle when I counted the crabs and realized there were exactly 24 crabs. That was a first. They always used to give you several extra ones, because, invariably, a few crabs would be light. Well, those days are long gone, my friends. You order two dozen crabs today, and that’s exactly what you get. I didn’t count the claws, but I’m guessing that there were no extras there either.

I was talking to some friends who went to the Rotary Crab Feast a few weeks back, and they all said the same thing. “The crabs were okay. But some of them tasted sort of different. I don’t think all of ’em were from around here.”

I’ve thought the same thing when I’ve ordered ‘local’ crab cakes at various restaurants around town this summer. Sure, it’s crab. And it tastes fine. But there is something vaguely unfamiliar about it. Something I can’t exactly put my finger on.

I suspect it’s the same something that has kept me from putting my crab traps out this summer.

What It Is, Ain’t Exactly Clear
I have lived my whole life along the Severn, and I have this nagging suspicion there is something really wrong with the crab situation in the Bay. You still see people catching crabs, the world’s biggest crab feast goes on without a hitch and crab cakes are still prominently featured on every menu around Annapolis. But it just isn’t the way it used to be. It’s like everything about the crab is sort of out of kilter. It doesn’t ring true. And it tastes a little strange.

What’s going on here?

Well, the simple answer is that we’re catching too many crabs. By we, I mean everyone.

The federal government is about to start throwing millions of dollars at this problem. Scientists are going to create an entire industry around studying every aspect of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. The General Assembly here in Maryland has reduced the harvest by 15 percent over the next three years. And the watermen are going to gripe and moan all the way to eventual bankruptcy.

The latest government gimmick, fashioned after the Japanese who over-harvested their own version of the blue crab, is to establish “crab farms” around the Bay. Ignoring the abysmal disaster such an approach has already had for wild and native stock like the Pacific salmon, our leaders grasp for salvation in a vision of the Chesapeake blue crab as just another crop. Watermen can become farmers. Won’t that be grand?

Lost Old Times
As I sit here thinking about crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay, I see an image of my old friend Kevin being buried in a lonely cemetery down in Southern Anne Arundel County. And I am reminded that the days of my youth are over, that the good times I remember so well are perhaps gone forever. There are no quick fixes.

I guess that’s the answer. I don’t crab anymore because it reminds me of how much things have changed. And that makes me profoundly sad.

We bury friends and loved ones, and in some strange way that teaches us to value life.

This is a hard lesson that can only be lived, and a truth that will one day touch us all.

About the Author:
Steve Carr owns an environmental consulting business and is a past president of the Severn River Association. An avid birder who enjoys canoeing, hiking and bicycling, he has written extensively about the Bay for many years and has lived along the Severn River his whole life.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly