Jon Crispin's Notebook

Crabbing on the Chesapeake

Posted in History, People, Water by joncrispin on 08/05/2011

Yesterday we were out on a crab boat with Roy and Colleen Sadler.  We were on the dock by 4.30 AM, and on the Bay putting out lines by 5.oo.  It is still early in the season, and when Roy started pulling up the lines, there wasn’t much action.

The sun was just coming up over the horizon, so the boat was still using the onboard lights.   The technique is to attach small packets of razor clams to a line about every 10 or 15 feet.  Roy and Colleen would drop the line, circle around and hope the crabs would chow down.  The line would be strung over a roller, and any attached crabs would drop into the net Roy is holding above.

The crabs have to be over a certain size to be kept (I think it’s between 4 and 5 inches), or they get tossed back into the bay.  Since the sun hadn’t come up, they were mostly inactive.  But as the sun rose higher, more and more took the bait.

You can see the little orange packets of razor clams coming up over the roller.


Roy and Colleen are amazing people.  Roy has been working on the water his whole life, and Colleen works in a bank on the island during the week.  She is usually on the boat at weekends helping out.  The economics of making a living off the bay have changed so much over the years;  Roy has said it would be very difficult to keep his business going without her income.  A lot of what we are learning on this leg of the project has to do with the stifling regulations that the State of Maryland is forcing on the watermen (and women), and the ongoing change to the bay’s ecosystem which makes harvesting seafood such a challenge.

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