Maryland March 30, 2016
Guest Contributor These 10 Photos Show Maryland’s Blue Crab Industry Like You’ve Never Seen It Before
For hundreds of years, Marylanders have been in love with the sweet flavor of Blue Crab meat. The Chesapeake Bay is home to some of the highest quality Blue Crabs and boasts one of the most sustainable crab fisheries in the world. The commercial fishery supports thousands of watermen, hundreds of crab pickers, and countless restaurants that serve the famous crustacean. On April 1, Maryland’s crabbing will open for the 2016 season, bringing back summer crab feasts and fresh Maryland crab meat for the year. These photographs will give you a glimpse into the biology of a Blue Crab and show you the work that it takes to get them onto your table.
The Blue Crab’s latin name, Callinectus sappidus, translates to “Beautiful Swimmer.” Blue Crabs inhabit the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil to Nova Scotia. In the United States, the largest commercial fisheries for Blue Crabs are in the Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina, Delaware Bay, and Louisiana.
Warmer weather triggers crabs to emerge from the bay’s muddy and sandy bottom after their winter hibernation. The lush underwater grasses in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay provide the crabs with ideal places to hide from predators.
As Spring approaches, watermen prepare for the crabbing season by rigging their crab pots and painting buoys.
Maryland watermen target Blue Crabs in the shallows using bank traps. These traps are only legal to use in Somerset County, Maryland.
‘Aurora’ a salty Yellow Lab keeps a watchful eye over the catch from a day of crab potting near Tilghman Island.
In order to grow, Blue Crabs shed their exoskeletons in a process known as ecdysis. After shedding their hard shells, the crabs will absorb water into their new soft shell and after about 6 hours will harden. During this stage, the crabs are extremely vulnerable to predators such as fish, birds, other crabs and humans. Tangier Sound, the south eastern region of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, produces more soft shells than any other region in the world.
Crab houses in the Chesapeake Bay region use a dry steaming technique to cook crabs before picking. While cooking the crabs are never fully submerged in the boiling water, they are cooked by the heat carried by the steam. Once cooked, the crabs are cooled down and picked the next day.
Nicey Jones of Cambridge, Maryland picked crabs for 66 years before retiring in 2014 from the J.M Clayton Seafood Company. Nicey’s mother also picked crabs at J.M. Clayton in Cambridge. For many working in the Maryland’s seafood industry, the knowledge and tradition is passed on from generation to generation.
Blue Crabs have three grades of meat in their bodies: Claw, Lump and Jumbo Lump. When pickers are extracting the meat (a process that has been the same way for over 100 years), they package the meat into separate containers for customers. Claw meat is the least expensive grade of meat, lump is slightly more expensive, and jumbo lump is the highest quality and most expensive meat from the crab body. Chefs and seafood enthusiasts use the different grades of meat for dishes like crab cakes, crab soup, or crab dip.
Picking crabs during the summer is a tradition that many Marylanders hold close to their hearts. This photograph was taken at the annual Annapolis crab feast, over 2,000 bushels are eaten every year at this event alone.
Did you learn something new about Maryland’s crabbing industry? Let us know in the comment section. View more work by
Jay Fleming right here and follow him on Facebook right here.