~ 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 youre getting old when people younger than you start dying. I lost an old friend last month to cancer, and its got me feeling a bit blue.
At Kevins 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. Theyre still piled up behind my house.
I nodded. Yeah, I never set mine out either.
Somethings Happening Here
It wasnt 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 werent even going through the motions anymore.
This is not good. When two diehard crabbers decide they arent even going to try and do some crabbing, then something aint 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 its 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 havent been crabbing because there are just no crabs to be caught. But that isnt the case either.
Ive seen crabs scurrying along the Severns muddy bottom and spotted the occasional doubler clinging in a romantic embrace to the pilings on my neighbors 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, its pretty clear that each pass nets only a few keepers. But the crabs are out there. There just arent 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 havent I put out any crab traps?
I really dont 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 didnt 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 thats exactly what you get. I didnt count the claws, but Im 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 dont think all of em were from around here.
Ive thought the same thing when Ive ordered local crab cakes at various restaurants around town this summer. Sure, its crab. And it tastes fine. But there is something vaguely unfamiliar about it. Something I cant exactly put my finger on.
I suspect its the same something that has kept me from putting my crab traps out this summer.
What It Is, Aint 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 worlds biggest crab feast goes on without a hitch and crab cakes are still prominently featured on every menu around Annapolis. But it just isnt the way it used to be. Its like everything about the crab is sort of out of kilter. It doesnt ring true. And it tastes a little strange.
Whats going on here?
Well, the simple answer is that were 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. Wont 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 thats the answer. I dont 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.