Sign suggests second career for Ripken


September 23, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

SIGN IN FRONT of Foster Brothers Hardware, Hereford: "Cal Ripken For President." Sign at Repeat Performance, second-hand clothing consignment shop, Pikesville: "Notice: We do not accept any cocktail dresses from Monica L." Sign I'd like to hang in front of Mickey Steinberg's office: "Don't worry, Mick. Yom Kippur is next week."

Give crabs a break

I wonder how many times these words have appeared in a Maryland newspaper: "Watermen scoffed at the notion that crabs are being overharvested." Heard that one before? Same here. At different times over the last 25 years, "oysters" or "rockfish" could have been substituted for "crabs." But the basic sentence would have been the same: "Watermen scoffed " Reporters should have a special key on their computers so that, when chronicling the ups and downs of the Chesapeake Bay, they can simply punch up the sentence and fill in the blank.

Watermen always scoff at the idea that they might have some responsibility for the depletion of a particular species.

The crab harvest was way down this summer. In May, a group of government scientists called the Chesapeake blue crab "fully exploited." This month, the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory released a two-year study on blue crabs, concluding that they have been overfished since the late 1980s.

The watermen? They don't blame humans -- themselves or the consumers who support them. They blame the again-abundant rockfish for eating too many crabs. (They keep saying this despite studies by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources that fewer than 5 percent of stripers do the crustacean chew.)

Plumbing the depths of the bay to determine the exact reasons for the crab decline is a complex undertaking. It's best left to scientists.

But, given what the marine-bio heads already have concluded about the blue crab's dropping numbers (in particular, the number of females old enough to reproduce), common sense dictates that giving the crabs a break for a while -- a drastic reduction in authorized harvests, even a moratorium -- would help jump-start a resurgence.

Economically and symbolically, the blue crab is the bay's most valuable product. It's been abundant for years. But that's just the problem.

We can't handle abundance. We're better in crisis, dealing with scarcity. (When the rockfish disappeared, a five-year moratorium fishing them brought them back.) It's when something is in seemingly inexhaustible supply that we go absolutely over the top with consumption. That's why the shad disappeared and are only now showing signs of recovery. And while parasites and other natural factors are frequently offered as reasons for their decline, Chesapeake oysters were almost shucked out of existence because of human consumption. If we're not careful, we'll lose the crabs, too.

Not everyone agrees, of course.

Here's a typical reaction: "Just because we see a drop in July's harvest we don't cry 'Chicken Little.' " That's from the mouth of Bob Bolling, a Virginia state senator. He says current management practices are working, and there is no proof that lower limits are needed.

Right, and Bill Clinton doesn't need a good therapist.

How many studies do we need? One said the blue crab population was fully exploited, another said it's been overfished for a decade. Cut the number of pots out there. Cut the length of trot lines. Make the chicken-neckers do it the old-fashion way, with a line, sinker and net. Back government compensation of commercial crabbers who take a year off. Let's do something.

I rest my mallet.

Restaurant overkill

I attended an all-you-can-eat crab feed a couple of weeks ago. (And ate a hamburger.) I noticed what several TJI readers have described in recent e-mailings, letters and phone calls: A waste of crab meat. People do not feel obligated to invest a lot of time picking through shells and claws. They take some lump, then quickly move on to the next crab, and the next, and the next. I think the numerous TJI readers who've made this point are on target: All-you-can-eat specials contribute to the perception that crabs are so abundant there's no need for anyone to get overly picky about them. Why fill up on six when you can fill up on 10? Restaurants that continue such specials are either unaware of the crab decline or don't care about it.

The Baltimore Kiss-Off

After lengthy research, I've concluded that the following line, delivered in a healthy, home-grown accent, constitutes the Baltimore Kiss-Off: "I have no idea." (Delivered slowly, for ultimate impact: "Ah have nyo ah-dea.") Ask someone in a bad mood for directions, ask them the time of day, and you're apt to hear it: "Ah have nyo ah-dea." Translated, it means: "I don't know, and leave me alone." (In certain parts of town, the last word is always delivered, for emphasis, as two syllables: "Ay-lone.")

Which reminds me of the woman, fed up with Daylight-Saving Time, who said: "Leave the clocks ay-lone!" And I'm sure somewhere out there, a Baltimorean with a robust regional accent has announced similar feelings, on Bill Clinton, across a kitchen table: "Leave the president ay-lone!"

Where this person is, I have no idea.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.