Burton on the Bay
Burton Celebrates 10 Years with Bay Weekly
On the crab front, its not a happy anniversary
We long to tred a way none trod before.
William Butler Yeats:The Land of Hearts Desire, 1894
Pardon me, William Butler Yeats, but though he isnt young like the hero in The Land of Hearts Desire, William Donald Schaefer has chosen to tread a way none have trod before.
With much fanfare, Marylands outspoken and oft controversial boss waded into the Bay to tinker with the special relationship with our prized crustacean: the blue crab of Chesapeake Bay.
Thats the way it started off a decade ago this month, my first column for what was then the fledgling New Bay Times and has since become Bay Weekly, the sheet you are holding in your hands. This being the 10th anniversary, those of us still aboard have been requested to resurrect a piece of our early work, then review it in light of the circumstances of today. On the crab front, its not a happy anniversary.
Tis often said, what goes around, comes around, but sadly, the crab situation hasnt even gone around. It has pretty much stayed as it was when this first column crossed the desk of editor Sandra Martin. If anything, things have gotten worse.
King Crab Continues Strong
Laws of Maryland prohibited William Donald Schaefer from seeking a third consecutive term. Had that law not been in force, might I suggest that the crabs in the Chesapeake might not be as bad off as they are today.
King Crab, as William Donald was often referred to in this column, was not the kind of guy to turn the reins over to someone else not when there was a job to do and when he had already waded into an issue. Look how long he had previously hung around City Hall in the heart of Baltimore.
And before we get into King Crabs doing battle on behalf of crabs, its appropriate that we mention there were a few more lines from Yeats The Land of Hearts Desire that are fitting to repeat in regard to our former say-it-as-it-is guv:
- Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
- Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
- Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
Ten years ago, in that first column I should have mentioned that not much within those lines is applicable to William Donald Schaefer. He got old, godly, grave, bitter of tongue at times like when he referred to the Eastern Shore as, shall we say an outhouse.
He didnt need to get crafty and wise. That he already was. And we have missed those attributes in the boss man in Annapolis since he packed his bag and left the Governors Mansion while Hilda Maes renowned fountain, later to be turned off by his spiteful successor, was still spewing water.
Might I also point out the title of Yeats work, The Land of Hearts Desire, is appropriate for Chesapeake Bay Country.
Thats How It Was
Ten years to the month after King Crab waded into the big crab controversy, there remains much to be desired in our Land of Hearts Desire like enough crabs. Or even crabs that we can afford.
It is appropriate the governor chose to get his feet wet on the issue of mans insatiable appetite for crabs before our beloved tidewater creature joins shad, rockfish, canvasbacks, Canada geese and even yellow perch on a list of endangered, threatened or troubled species.
Much fanfare accompanied the recent Annapolis press conference, promptly followed by a widespread mix of gripes and blessings. It was obvious this was just the first shot in what promises to be second only to the rockfish moratorium in controversy. But this is nothing new for the battle-scarred guv, who has alternately roused our ire or our support for his curious whims, brainstorms and sometimes downright logical paths of action.
Contrary to his usual swashbuckling approach, he opened this battle on a conservative note with assurances crabs are not yet in trouble, but could or would be unless we promptly implement severe restrictions
Immediately following announcement of his plans, researched and mapped out by DNR, crab catchers took sides. Alas, it was the same old tired story; commercial versus recreational (who thought of the crabs?). Each side figured the other should make the sacrifices. No one wanted to bite the bullet; lead has a bitter taste.
Today, Its Only Worse
Thats how it was a decade ago in the fledgling days of the former New Bay Times, thats how it is today only worse. King Crabs term ran out before he finished the job. He had to let go of the tiger he held by the tail, and one wonders what it might have been like had he served another term.
But forget daydreams, heres what its really like. This year, weve seen crabs at $200 a bushel ($50 was tops when King Crab got into the fray). Catches have been horrendous. Despite all his rhetoric about Bay restoration, former Gov. Parris Glendening put us so deep in a financial hole we cant afford to implement meaningful Chesapeake programs and he also canned scientists and administrators who understood the problems.
And Business-Above-All-Else Glendening was himself replaced by Bob Ehrlich, who thus far has displayed some of the sad Glendening traits: He fired more respected scientists and administrators, and has come up with a few other curious ideas of his own:
- Oysters are in as much if not more trouble than crabs, so early in his administration, to help financially strapped oystermen, Ehrlich opened some oyster bars to power dredging. Ugh.
- Thats not all, Recently Business-Above-All-Else Bob despite the dearth of crabs in the Bay and money in the state till announced that up to $500 in emergency federal funds will be doled out to up to 800 commercial crabbers to tide them over in these rough times of bad weather and too few crabs for profitable catching.
Thats it Bob: Give them incentive to keep crabbing when perhaps it would be better to consider an approach of attrition. Was Jimmy Durante right when he said Politics is developing more comedians than radio ever did? If you know the answer its not a question.
Is Anyone Listening?
Crabs. Theyre at the point that Sun columnist and friend Dan Rodericks suggests others do as he has. Hes given up crabs much as he likes them. But thats not really a solution. Crabs are critters of short life. They cant be stockpiled.
Were no, make that crabs remain where they were the year this publication came on the scene. Some argue theyre in even worse shape. Two years ago, Chesapeake Bay Foundations State of the Bay assessment read:
Blue Crabs: The biggest decline in the latest report involves crabs, which are the bays most valuable commercial catch and a cultural icon. Decades of habitat loss primarily underwater grasses and intensive commercial and recreational pressure are responsible.
The decline was four points, thus crabs score a 42 (which I assume, readers, you realize is flunking Restoration 101).
Is anyone listening?
Update: from Volume 1, Number 5