Crabs need a break -- from the mallet

THIS JUST IN ...

August 24, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

That must have been a fluke -- not crabs -- that we had for dinner in June. They were big, heavy blue crabs -- local, too, caught in waters of the upper Chesapeake, steamed in classic Baltimore crabhouse seasoning. At the time, I found seafood dealers crowing about the quality and quantity of crabs.

But since then, all we've heard is the blues. When a Talbot County waterman, Greg Schnaitman, told me two weeks ago that this is the worst crab harvest he'd seen in 27 years, I figured he might have been overstating things. But The Sun reported over the weekend that Maryland's blue crab harvest for July was the worst on record; a Tilghman Island buyer called the 1998 season "the worst I've seen in 35 years."

The state has been sending warning signals about a decline in crabs. Last winter's survey of young crabs was below average, and in early spring a report from experts said the Maryland blues are "fully exploited."

Fully exploited.

Schnaitman, who said he was lucky to harvest a bushel a day in August, suspects the resurgent rockfish. (Big rockfish can gobble crabs whole. I once saw a large rockfish -- or striped bass -- caught off a Cape Cod beach and, upon dissection, it was found to have five market-size lobsters in various states of digestion in its stomach.)

While Schnaitman might be right about Chesapeake rockfish taking a big bite out of the crab population, it's hard to imagine that the big bass, alone, could inflict such significant damage. A state official says nothing readily explains the scarcity.

Maybe this does: The average annual harvest of Chesapeake blue crabs through the 1990s has been 42 million bushels.

Forty-two million bushels.

The human toll on crabs might be a factor, wouldn't you say?

And as Maryland's human population continues to grow, the bay gets more and more pressure all the time. The blue crab might need a little break.

A shorter harvest season? A moratorium? Here I defer to the experts who, in the case of the rockfish, at least, came up with a plan to save the fishery. (And don't tell me that was a no-brainer; convincing watermen and sportsmen in several states they had to take five years off from fishing for "rock" was like telling Bill Clinton the White House internship program was being cut from the budget.)

Crabs still come to us from other states down South. We'll still be able to get them if we want them. (Some of the holistic thinkers among us might think about abstaining for a year.) The commercial crabbers? I have no problem subsidizing crabbers. We're subsidizing millionaires who own football and baseball teams, aren't we?

I rest my mallet.

Out-swinging derby

I think the 1998 home run derby, the pursuit of Roger Maris' season record, is a wonderful phenomenon. And I say that even though I'm probably going to lose a bet that Ken Griffey Jr. would get to 61 first, and even though I think the pitching talent is as thin as a paper napkin through the major leagues. But I disgree with many who seem to believe that without Mark

McGwire, the Testosteronasaurus, and Sammy Sosa this would be another dull baseball year.

Actually, it's a pretty interesting season, as baseball seasons go.

But, of all the attractions this year, I'm particularly taken with the spectacle of Eric Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. I believe Davis has the duende, the fantastic spirit that some would call star quality, some would call charisma, but what I regard as all of that and much more. (Perhaps McGwire should be on my list of the duende-touched. After all, the late jazz great Miles Davis is, and his accomplishments also were pharmaceutically influenced.)

A year ago today, Eric Davis stepped back into the Camden Yards batting cage to take batting practice for the first time since dropping out of the Orioles lineup because of colon cancer. He had had surgery in June. A third of his colon had been removed. He had had chemotherapy. He came back to finish the 1997 season. This summer, he is the first star that catches your eye when the Orioles take the field. His July-August hitting streak is a wonder. He's batting about .330 with 25 doubles and 24 home runs.

Only a year ago, he stepped back into the cage.

A friend says, "Well, all due respect, but I've heard a little too much about the cancer aspect of this."

Which is typical of a lot of my male friends, who like to move on to other business quickly -- in particular, when the subject rises from the emotional-medical realm.

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