Volume 13, Issue 33 ~ August 18 - 24, 2005
Crab Catch
by M.L. Faunce

Raising Crabs for the Future
Scientists spawning millions of blue crab larvae with high survival rates

In this high season of summer, a surfeit of crabs challenges the crabber as much as sparse supplies did this spring. Perhaps Shakespeare foretold the crabber’s dilemma in Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. 

On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

But as the cream of abundance rises to the surface of murky Bay waters in summer 2005, we well know this is just a moment in time. For the crabber, today’s bounty is just that: today’s.

For a good half of my own life, some 30 years since the productive blue crab fishery of the Chesapeake crashed in the 1960s, the now-stock phrase Save the Bay has defined this region. Now, the president of the United States has slashed federal funding for Bay cleanup.

Will Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation president, puts the larger problem this way: “If the richest, most powerful nation on Earth can’t clean up this mess on the very doorstep of the nation’s capitol, what message do we send for the future of the planet?”

One Hope for the Future
An innovative blue crab hatchery research program is quietly learning more about the life cycle and reproduction of the crab. Crab Restoration and the Bay — CRAB — has been underway since the summer of 2000 at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute’s Center for Marine Biotechnology. At Columbus Center on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, scientists have been able to raise Chesapeake blue crabs in captivity for their entire life cycle.

The best news is that they’ve mass-produced thousands of juvenile crabs in laboratory tanks. Using sponge crabs supplied by watermen, scientists have spawned and hatched millions of blue crab larvae year round with high survival rates.

By 2002, crabs were tagged and released at study sites in the Bay, to be “monitored for survival, growth habitat use and movement patterns.” Released crabs grow quickly; scientists say results are promising for increasing blue crab populations in the Bay.

Funding comes from the State of Maryland, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Phillips Seafood. The study consortium also includes the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater as well as bordering states.

Eventually — and this is why a crab importer and processor like Phillips cares — the new hatchery technologies could be used by the seafood industry.

We are on a full sea at this point in the summer of 2005. Hatchery-raised crabs give us one hope for the future.

This week’s crab sources

Maryland’s Fresh Seafood, Upper Marlboro

Maryland crabs

  • Medium/Large Mixed Males: $15 the dozen; $75 the bushel

Annapolis Seafood Markets

Local crabs

  • Large Males: $42 the dozen; $280 the bushel
  • Medium Males: $24 the dozen, $40 for 2 dozen; $149 the bushel

Shoreline Seafood, Gambrills

  • Jumbo Males: $49.50 the dozen
  • Large Males: $39.50 the dozen: $78 for two dozen
  • Medium Males: $29.50 the dozen: $58 for two dozen
  • No. 1 Males: $94 the half bushel

Dockside Crabs, Deale

Local crabs

  • Medium Mixed Males: $20 the dozen, $35 for two dozen; $60 the half bushel
  • B Crabs (not as heavy): $10 the dozen; $70 the bushel

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