For six years, the Joe Judge Fishing Derby had the feel of an event scripted from beyond:
A grieving youngster catching his first fish, a burdened mom enjoying a day on the Chesapeake Bay and forgetting some of her worries, a family stunned by the death of a loved one coming together on the shimmering blue water and sharing a laugh.
In one way, Wednesday was different. But in the most important ways, the seventh annual derby was not.
The difference was the absence of Donna Judge, the founder of the event and guiding force each year. Cancer killed her. She died in March at the age of 56.
The derby, named for Judge's late husband, continued this year under the guidance of her good friend, Diane Baynard.
A dozen kids and their parents boarded Capt. Jim Brincefield's charter boat, Jil Carrie, just before 9 a.m. as the bay was heating like a lobster pot.
Most of them were recruited from Camp New Dawn, a weekend sleepover camp on Kent Island for youngsters whose family members have died.
Capt. Mark Galasso, like Brincefield, a volunteer, picked out a spot near Love Point to do some chumming and bottom fishing. He chose well.
"It's a good thing it wasn't any busier because I'm cooked," said a sweaty - but grinning - Joe Cap, who helped first mate T.J. Reiber bait hooks and release undersized fish. "This is about the best thing we do all year."
The kids had a blast. Everyone felt the tug of a fish on the end of their line and got their picture taken with their catch.
"I wish I could do this every day," said Hunter Dashnow, 12, of Centreville, who caught a bluefish and a striped bass.
Searing heat chased the anglers to shore a bit earlier than usual, but Harris Crab House had icy drinks, hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream waiting.
Before Brincefield pointed the boat south toward Kent Island, however, Karen Carrillo reeled in the largest fish of the day - a 21 1/2 -inch striped bass. Carrillo, who brought her twin daughters and son along, was Donna and Joe Judge's niece.
"You couldn't script that," Brincefield said.
"It's in the blood," Carrillo said, smiling. "[Donna] would have loved it."
A compromised state
Calling the Virginia governor's deal to cap commercial menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay a compromise is like putting lipstick on a pig.
"The agreement being struck today is a great compromise between conservation and commerce," gushed Will Baker, the Forrest Gump-like character from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, at Monday's news conference to announce the deal.
(On its Web site, the foundation quotes Baker as saying, "Disagreement has struck the right balance between conservation and commerce," which is a lot closer to the truth.)
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called the deal a "legitimate, logical compromise."
Whoa. A compromise, according to Webster, is a "settlement in which each side gives up some demands or makes concessions."
Despite everyone falling all over each other in a self-congratulatory, made-for-the media, beamed-to-you-by-satellite moment, I don't see any compromise. All I see is one side - commerce - getting dinner, with the other side - conservation - getting the check.
Menhaden are the small fish that filter the bay and feed striped bass. The Omega Protein commercial fleet scoops them up and takes them to its processing plant in Reedville, Va., where they are ground up for pet food and dietary supplements.
While the East Coast menhaden population is good, it's believed the number of fish in the bay has been declining at an alarming rate. Last year, scientists and recreational anglers asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to impose a five-year cap to allow research.
ASMFC agreed to set the annual menhaden catch at 105,000 metric tons, the average from 2000-2004. It threatened Virginia, fronting for Omega, with federal sanctions if it refused to comply.
Virginia had an entire year to rein in Omega, which contributes handsomely to that state's politicians. As expected, the Virginia legislature dragged its feet, forcing Gov. Tim Kaine to act.
The July 1 deadline passed. With two weeks remaining until ASMFC's next meeting, Kaine struck his "compromise," with an annual cap 4 metric tons over ASMFC's number.
Menhaden conservation groups say they were asked by Kaine's staff what they could live with and made a "strategic" decision to go along with the deal.
So let's review:
Virginia-Omega did not comply by the deadline;
Omega gets to catch more fish than what ASMFC wanted;
If Omega does not reach its cap in any one year, it can add that amount to its allocation the next year.
Not to denigrate the work of citizen groups, such as Menhaden Matter, but what exactly did Omega give up during negotiations with Kaine to arrive at this last-minute "compromise"?
Oh, yes, the company agreed to "back" the research effort, but who knows what that means.
Give Ehrlich his props for backing the menhaden cap. But he got a little giddy at Monday's event when he said, "Any solution that bypasses the judicial system is a positive solution."
I hope not. This deal may work out - fingers crossed - but for a bay that's already compromised there are compromises Maryland shouldn't go along with, even if the matter goes to court.
"Compromise," as American poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell counseled, "makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof."