Everything but dreams heading for cold storage; Crab Corner


As we approach the end of yet another season, crabbing continues to be productive, with reported catches of two and three bushels a trip.

Crabs will run until some point in early November, then will seem to simply disappear. The females, many that were born this past spring, will make their way back to the ocean and hibernate all winter.

Next spring, they will become pregnant using the sperm collected from this year's mating (a mating that occurs only once in their lifetime), and bear approximately 2 million babies.

Born as food for many ocean creatures, few baby crabs survive the odds. A tide will bring them up the Chesapeake in early spring, but, out of the 2 million born, only one to five will reach maturity.

After reproducing, the females will return to the upper bay for their last season -- the life expectancy for female crabs is approximately two years.

The males, on the other hand, migrate up the Chesapeake during their first year of life and will hibernate there when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees. They remain in the bay and usually die in their third year.

It is illegal to crab from Dec. 1 until April 1, a seemingly unnecessary law, for even if you were to crab constantly during that period, the chances of catching any of the creatures are slim.

Although I dread the off-season, I wonder if I would tire of crabbing if I lived in such states as Florida, Louisiana or Texas, where crabs are harvested year-round and shipped to other states, including Maryland, supplying us with crabs during the winter months.

The absence of my favorite activity does seem to weigh on my mind, as I'm often plagued by recurring dreams that begin around January. I dream that I'm trying to go crabbing all night but never can make it to my crabbing spot.

The boat trailer breaks, a friend has to make repeated stops for coffee and, if I eventually make it to the bay, once I head out for the Kent Narrows Bridge, all of the water disappears and my prop turns in the mud.

I also dream that I am once again a child in Highlandtown, throwing out chicken necks on a string and pulling up crabs from under the parked cars, behind telephone poles in the alley, under my mother's living room furniture and even from behind the television set.

I plan to crab until mid-November, when I will be happy to take home my last catch of about three dozen. Many times, the traps are filled with the brightly colored leaves that have fallen off the trees lining the shore.

I have often stopped my friends from throwing back what they thought was an empty trap, saying, "Wait a minute, I think I see a claw," and upon close inspection have found a heavy male buried under foliage in the bottom of the trap.

The water this time of year is extremely clear, due to the reduced boat traffic and absence of algae because of the chilly water temperatures.

I remember several years ago, when crabbing on the Wye River in November, looking down with disbelief at my trap on the bottom while my depth finder read 10 feet.

For the most part, the only people left on the water will be commercial watermen, harvesting oysters and fish. This is the time when the Chesapeake gets a much-needed break.

The thirteen Crab Corner articles from the past year will appear on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/ recreational/crabcorn.html.

In addition, you may visit my website, which will change periodically through the off-season, at www.members.home.net/thecrabman.

It has been a pleasure sharing information about "the beautiful swimmer." I would like to thank all my readers for their support, and until next time, keep 'em steaming. And I guess I'll get ready for the dreams.

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