Magazine

Oct 14, 2015

Crab-Catching Blues

Crab-Catching Blues

Young people in the small rural shore towns of Chesapeake Bay, which straddles the eastern U.S. states of Maryland and Virginia, are shunning the erratic pay of "watermen", who catch crabs using skills such as baiting a crab pot or handling a trotline, previously passed down through the generations. Seasonal workers from Mexico fill many of the manual jobs in picking houses to process the crustaceans. The industry faces other headwinds, environmental issues and an increasingly global agricultural market among them. Last year's harvest was the lowest recorded in 25 years after the crab population crashed in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Crab-Catching Blues
1

Diners eat blue crabs as the sun sets over the Kent Narrows at Harris Crab House in Grasonville, Maryland September 5, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
2

Contestants argue with organisers after they said that they caught someone cheating in the crab-picking contest during the annual National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield, Maryland September 5, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
3

A contestant cheers for the start of the crab-picking contest, for professional pickers from local seafood businesses, during the annual National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield, Maryland September 5, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
4

Crisfield Police Chief Michael Tabor prepares to fire the starter pistol for a crab "race" during the annual National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield, Maryland September 5, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
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Crabs "race" for contestants' bragging rights during the annual National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield, Maryland September 5, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
6

Mexican guest workers from the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house wheel baskets full of goods and groceries on a shopping excursion at Walmart after driving from Hooper's Island to Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
7

Workers from the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house make purchases at a "tienda" (shop) after driving from Hooper's Island to Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
8

A large stainless steel shovel lies on top of steamed crabs at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
9

Mexican workers, on the U.S. H2B visa program for seasonal guest workers, process crabs at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
10

A worker unloads a carriage of cooked crabs from a large pressure steamer at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
11

Workers unload bushel baskets of live blue crabs into a large carriage before pressure steaming them at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
12

Workers unload bushel baskets of live blue crabs into a large carriage before pressure steaming them at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
13

Professional waterman Danny Richardson tries to fit one more crab into a bushel basket as he works a trot line on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
14

Waterman Dwane Paul delivers his day's catch at the A.E. Phillips & Son Inc. crab picking house on Hooper's Island in Fishing Creek, Maryland August 26, 2015. Paul's two sons have followed him into the fishing trade, although he had hopes they might choose a different profession. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
15

A mating pair of crabs, or "doublers" in the local parlance, skirt the grass along the shore near the Taylors Island Wildlife Management Area in Taylors Island, Maryland August 27, 2015. A male crab attaches himself to a female when she has moulted her hard shell and is nearly ready to mate. He latches onto her for a day or two while they mate and protects her until her new shell has hardened. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
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Researcher Keira Heggie from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) releases a crab back into the water after tagging it with a plastic marker as part of a study in the Nanticoke River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, near Tyaskin, Maryland August 25, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
17

Researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) tag crabs and release them back into the Nanticoke River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, near Tyaskin, Maryland August 25, 2015. SERC offers a reward to people who find a tagged crab. A $5 reward is offered for some of the crabs and others a $50 reward, the difference helping to determine the accuracy of the data. The researchers assume that most people who catch the $50-labelled crab will phone in the tag number to collect their reward. SERC's research on migration patterns informs the management of the crab fisheries and the setting of fishing limits in the area. This can be a point of contention between crabbers and government regulators who rely on the environmental research. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
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A plastic tag is attached to a crab by a researcher from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) on a boat in the Nanticoke River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, near Tyaskin, Maryland August 25, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
19

Blue crabs wait to be tagged by researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) before being released back into the Nanticoke River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, near Tyaskin, Maryland August 25, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
20

A crab clings to the catch basket as professional watermen Jeff Robinson and Danny Richardson fish for crabs on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. Their fishing licenses allowed them to catch up to 13 bushels of crabs that day; the daily limit can vary during the season. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
21

Before sunrise, professional waterman Danny Richardson heads into the Choptank River to catch crabs near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. Richardson, who is recovering from double hernia surgery, has teamed up with his friend Jeff Robinson to work the waters of the Chesapeake Bay this year. They move their boat up the bay as the season goes on in search of the best catch. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
22

Parts of crabs and jellyfish lie on a wooden sorting table as professional watermen Jeff Robinson and Danny Richardson fish for crabs on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
23

Professional waterman Jeff Robinson uses radar to make his way onto the Choptank River to catch crabs near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. Robinson has teamed up with his friend Danny Richardson, who is recovering from double hernia surgery, to work the waters of the Chesapeake Bay this year. They move their boat up the bay as the season goes on in search of the best catch. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
24

Professional watermen Jeff Robinson (C) and Danny Richardson (R) deploy a trotline as they fish for crabs on the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland August 28, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
25

Crab boats are moored at the dock at dawn on Hooper's Island, Maryland August 26, 2015. Young people in the small rural shore towns of Chesapeake Bay, which straddles the eastern U.S. states of Maryland and Virginia, are shunning the erratic pay of "watermen", who catch crabs using skills such as baiting a crab pot or handling a trotline, previously passed down through the generations. Seasonal workers from Mexico fill many of the manual jobs in picking houses to process the crustaceans. The industry faces other headwinds, environmental issues and an increasingly global agricultural market among them. Last year's harvest was the lowest recorded in 25 years after the crab population crashed in the 1990s and early 2000s. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
26

Josue Vega nets crabs one-by-one with his family at a parking lot abutting Long Wharf Park in Cambridge, Maryland August 26, 2015. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Crab-Catching Blues
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The sky is reflected on Parsons Creek after sunrise in Madison, Maryland August 27, 2015. The Chesapeake Bay estuary is the largest in the U.S. at a surface area of 4,480 square miles (11,600 square km), and has an average depth of 21 feet (7m). JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

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