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Volume XVII, Issue 1 - January 1 - January 7, 2009
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Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

A New Slogan for a New Year

Save the Crab Feast

I bought my first copy of Beautiful Swimmers in 1977. By the time I finished the first chapter I had learned more about the geology of the Chesapeake than I ever had before — or since.

From the chapter “Winter,” I learned that when the shallow waters of the Bay turn cold, crabs migrate to the deep channel and “holes” where the temperatures are more moderate. One famous hole, near Smith Point at the mouth of the Potomac, is over 90 feet deep. Rereading William Warner’s words about the Bay in winter makes my fingers feel the chill of cold Chesapeake waters.

Oysters are an appropriate theme for January, but I am feeling crabby. Another summer passed without a crab feast for me. I might have eaten a crab cake sometime in 2008, but there was no end-of-summer newspaper-covered table laden with hard crabs and cold beer. I could have shared the cost of a bushel with friends and family, as we used to do. But it wouldn’t have felt right. Crabs are a dwindling resource and a symbol of the slowly dying Chesapeake.

Every region of the country has its culinary traditions. Crab feasts are part of the culture here, and I mourn their passing. When I drive past some church or fire hall in August and see signs for the annual Shrimp Feast, I want to cry — and it is not because I don’t like shrimp.

Maybe we should put away that tired bumper sticker slogan Save The Bay. By now it is about as meaningful as Your call is very important to us. Maybe we should focus on a new cause: Save the Crab Feast.

On a radio program discussing the sorry state of the Bay, the refreshingly candid host couched his concerns in terms of simply wanting to have a healthy supply of steamed crabs. He might wish to save the Bay, but what he really wants is a crab feast. It gave me an idea.

Millions of people like him might not hold an ardent feeling for the Bay itself. They might, however, have a deep love for steamed crabs and crab cakes. They should be willing to make a small donation to preserve our shared culinary heritage?

I hold my breath before writing more, knowing that we are in the midst of a deep and painful recession. Yet I say that when the state legislature convenes in mid-January it should adopt a crab cake tax. Make it a line item on the state tax return: a voluntary check-off. Or create a surcharge on purchases of crabs or crabmeat. The amount should be in line with the cost of one crab cake, about $10.

However, if it’s to be accomplished, we need to spread word of the blue crab’s plight and find a way to appeal to sympathetic crab lovers in Maryland, Virginia and beyond.

Money won’t fix all of the Bay’s problems, but without the funds there is no hope for a Bay healthy enough to sustain a blue crab harvest for us all to enjoy. Plus, some jobs would be created through conservation programs.

I disagree with the cynics who say any money given to the state is a waste. I understand that many will say we can’t afford a crab tax. But if we lose our culinary heritage along with our natural heritage, then recession or no, we will be poorer.

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.