Just What The Judge Ordered

May 05, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

TILGHMAN ISLAND -- A busload of 25 Parkville High School students learned yesterday how to turn someone else's lemons into their lemonade.

After reading in the newspaper that Eastern Shore restaurateur Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison had been convicted of illegal rockfish possession and sentenced to take 100 kids on educational bay cruises, the Parkville students decided they'd help him settle his debt to society.

Larry Duncan, 18, a member of Sam DeCrispino's senior Human Geography class, got on the school telephone and called Harrison's Chesapeake House restaurant on Tilghman Island.

Before too long, he said, "they let me talk to Buddy Harrison himself." He told the 59-year-old businessman that his class was studying the bay, and asked whether they could be the first to take a court-ordered cruise.

"He said it sounded like a good idea," Mr. Duncan recalled.

Yesterday, Mr. DeCrispino and his class joined Captain Harrison for a two-hour cruise on the fishing charter Beaudacious, and later for lunch at the Chesapeake House.

The students paid $1 each for the bus ride. The Chesapeake Bay Trust funded the rest. They also chipped in $5 each toward their lunch, drinks and tips. Mr. Harrison paid for the rest.

Under a hazy sun and cool harbor breezes, Captain Harrison introduced them to Pete Sweitzer, 69, one of the last of the bay's skipjack captains.

"I guess I'm pretty well finished," Captain Sweitzer told them. "It's a shame that the Maryland oyster industry has gone down like it has, because it was a good way of making a living."

He told the students about the old wind-powered oystering fleet, and seemed to impress them with the cold, 16-hour days the crews put in. "You never see daylight on land when you're doing this," he said.

Captain Harrison told them of the herring, shad and oyster canneries his family operated where the fancy new marina now stands, and the tomato and corn canneries that stood where $300,000 homes are going in.

He pointed out the osprey nests on the channel buoys, the watermen culling clams from their workboat's conveyors. He seemed to enjoy this part of his sentence. But he remains irked at the judge who imposed it.

"I think it was unfair," he said privately as the Beaudacious churned across the Choptank River. "I've done a hell of a lot for the Chesapeake Bay. I don't know of anything he [District Judge John T. Clark III] has done, only go through law school."

Captain Harrison said he got the rockfish from a commercial netter who found he had caught more than allowed. Rather than throw the dead fish into the narrows, the netter offered them to Captain Harrison, who was buying the rest of the catch.

"So I said, 'To hell with it, I'm gonna use them,' " Captain Harrison said.

He was caught and convicted in Talbot District Court. In addition to the bay cruises, he was fined $2,000 and placed on a year's probation.

But because of Captain Harrison's prominence in the area, Judge Clark rejected a plea bargain that would have erased the misdemeanor conviction from his record after his probation. Anything but a guilty verdict, the judge said, "would send out the wrong message."

Captain Harrison said he felt that he was singled out for harsh treatment, and he's appealing, but he also said he liked introducing kids to the bay. "It's good to get kids out to see what we have, city kids especially," he said.

Mr. DeCrispino, 51, and a 29-year veteran at Parkville High, declared the adventure a success, and gave Captain Harrison high marks.

"He could have just put us on a boat and sent us out," he said. "But he did a really great job. I would give him an A, without question."

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