by M.L. Faunce
How Crabs Make their Last Meal
Crabs are not caught by faith alone. You cannot will a crab into your pot or onto your line. Like much of what you want in life, crabs must be wooed. For crabs, that means bait and not necessarily the bait you know.
Bait is one of the many differences that divide chicken-neckers, last week’s subject, from commercial crabbers.
From Mick Blackistone of Fairhaven, I learn that trotliners like him often use bull lips for bait. “Bull lips and eel last longer; chicken necks go faster,” Blackistone says.
Ted Lee on the Eastern Shore delivers bull lips “packed in salt; get them cut up or whole to cut yourself” to commercial crabbers like Bob Evans of Churchton.
“I sell crab bait the whole length of the Bay,” says Lee, of an occupation he inherited from his father. “And I do it all with one truck.” He buys what he calls “tame” bull lips fresh or frozen from a local beef farmer. “The better bait,” he says, “comes from out west. Places like Nebraska, where bulls feed on the open prairie, you get a tougher lip with no fat.” Lee also sells salted eels, razor clams and chicken necks.
Russell Dize, Tilghman Island skipjack captain and seafood dealer, says trotliners he buys from use bull lips or veal lips, available frozen from meat packing companies.
Crab potters prefer razor clams and menhaden. Fished from Rock Hall to the mouth of the Potomac, razor clams have declined sharply due to diseases and are increasingly scarce. Dize reports that last year crabbers paid about $20 for a bushel of the brittle shelled razor clams that this year are going for “$30 and up a bushel.”
The razor clam is edible for humans but in demand only by a small market of Asians. Fished for human rather than crab consumption is the similar soft-shell clam (also called steamers or long necks) the Bay is now supplying to New England, where ours are in high demand because of a red tide outbreak in that region’s waters.
Mitch Tarnowski, clam biologist for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, confirms the scarcity of both razor and soft-shell clams in the Bay due to diseases and the high prices this year: $100 to $110 a bushel for soft-shell clams for human consumption.
Both types of clams are raked from the Bay’s muddy bottom by boats rigged with hydraulic escalator dredges. Clamming is state regulated, with counties setting specific harvest areas and distance from the shoreline. It’s not permitted on oyster bars, and clammers are prohibited from working in areas of grass beds.
This week’s crab scources
Harris’ Crab House, Restaurant and Seafood Market,
Kent Narrows, Grasonville: 410-827-8104
Selling a mixture of local and Louisiana crabs
- Jumbos: $80 the dozen
- Extra large: $58 the dozen
- Large: $46 the dozen
- Medium: $32 the dozen
Stoney’s Seafood House, Broomes Island: 410-586-1888
Serving Maryland crabs
- No. One males: $56 the dozen
- No. Two males: $36 the dozen
Mel’s Crabs, Prince Frederick, by Internet
“At last crabs are coming in good enough to give you great deals,” says Mel Brennan. Prices vary day by day at www.melscrabs.com. Reserve at price quoted on-line.