Old School Photo Hack

Blue Crabs in Southern Maryland — There Aren’t Any


No photos.  No crabs.  End of story.

Alright, a little bit of story.

If there are any blue crabs in the waters of southern Maryland, we didn’t see them.  For TWO weekends running.

Over the Labor Day weekend — which was actually four days for us because we took Tuesday as a vacation day — we had our crab pot deployed and fully baited with the stinky oily fish that draws the local crabs like moths to a flame.  We put the trap in the water on Friday night and only checked once per day, so as to maximize the downtime for the trap.  No crabs Saturday.  Three tiny crabs and one legal size male on Sunday, which we left in the pot.  Just the one male on Monday.  Tuesday delivered just the one male and an empty carapace, both of which we released back to the water.

Four days in the water and only one keeper in the crab pot?  And only four crabs total for the entire period?  How is that possible?

This past weekend we didn’t even bother with the trap, because we didn’t see any living crabs anywhere.  Not in the shallows.  Not in the riprap.  We heard some kids netting an occasional crab off the pilings, but we didn’t actually see any ourselves.  Cindy and I were getting kind of desperate for crabs and did the unthinkable… we called the local seafood market a mile away from the boat to buy a dozen crabs.  Early in the morning to make sure we got some.

And they didn’t have any!!!

The guy I talked to said he was very sorry, but the local crabbing was so bad he had none to offer me.

It’s not just that business either.

Where we slip our boat is like a minor thoroughfare for the local watermen and there are around six of them that go out and come back several times per day.  Not head boat fishermen, these are commercial watermen that run trot lines and large crab pot fields, plus the semi-permanent fish traps in the shallower areas of the Potomac River.

Everyday that we’re on the boat, they pass close enough on their return to the docks that we can see their catches.  And this summer it’s all been fish.  No crabs.

The only crab we saw all weekend was the empty husk of one, upside down in the riprap close to shore.  Was it a molted husk?  Or carcass?  Dunno.

We are very concerned because the crab count for us in our little part of the Bay is wildly off what it was this same time last year.

I just hope it’s not what we see next year.

8 thoughts on “Blue Crabs in Southern Maryland — There Aren’t Any

  1. Mitch Zeissler

    Some of the local watermen think the gigantic runoff from the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last fall did irreparable damage and think it'll take human generations for the Chesapeake to recover. One of them in particular has been crabbing locally since before Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and he said the storms from last year did more destruction to the blue crab habitat in our area than Agnes did.

    Time will tell, but we're all beginning to think that next year may see the collapse of the Maryland crabbing industry as we know it — if the adult crabs are this sparse next summer.


  2. Mitch Zeissler

    There WAS a huge surge of young blue crabs in the spring… we saw them with our own eyes and I posted photos and a video on the blog here about what we had seen (goo.gl/2z2jw and goo.gl/p19bC).

    But that surge quickly ramped down toward the end of April and the locals all attributed it to the sharp cold snap we had after the early surge. Most of our local watermen predicted the crabs would come back; that they didn't like the cold and had temporarily retreated to the deeper regions of the Bay to stay warm. And for awhile it looked that way, as that's where our local guys were catching them.

    Then we began to see hundreds and hundreds of immature crab shells littering the shoreline. This was about mid-May, shortly after the cold snap. The local watermen all claimed the crabs were molting, but after that it was as if the crabs had up and vanished. Empty molts or cadavers? Cindy and I don't know enough to tell the difference, but they lined the shore in every place we looked.

    The one waterman I listen carefully to — an old guy on the cusp of retirement — has a BS in Marine Biology from St. Mary's College of Maryland. He was the only one that told me that the crabs were trying to climb his nets to the top of the water in his semi-permanent fish traps. When I asked him why, he said it was to get oxygen… that the water around Point Lookout was basically a dead zone and the lack of oxygen was going to really put the hurt on all the marine life.

    Cindy and I monitor the MD DNR water readings for the Bay, but the buoy sites are few and far between (I push zeros and ones for a living, but she's a bonafide scientist so reading about this stuff is fascinating to her). The oxygen charts indicated that our specific area had some problems, but they couldn't provide the level of granularity for us to see exactly what was going on.

    So was it lack of oxygen or something more sinister? We — as simple weekend sailors — simply don't know and don't have the means of testing for it.

    But I will say this: I've sailed on the Chesapeake Bay since the summer of 1975 and I've never seen the lack of crabs like I'm seeing now.


  3. Mitch Zeissler

    Shit — or the by-products from it. A lot of very foul water was dumped into the Bay by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, at levels that rivaled Hurricane Agnes back in 1972. Our retirement-bound waterman remembers crabbing around Point Lookout before and after Agnes tore through, and he says that the Bay and marine life in it never recovered to the same levels as before Agnes.

    His take now is that the one-two punch of last year was even worse and that it may take many human generations for the Bay to recover to what it was just two years ago.


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