PEOPLE IN Galesville squawked like annoyed geese, but the Anne Arundel County liquor board approved last month a liquor license for a guy who wants to open a 200-seat crab house there, on Tenthouse Creek. The Galesvillians opposed the liquor license for the same reasons community groups from Fells Point to Frostburg always oppose liquor licenses - fear of frat boys hurling on their hydrangeas. But they should have taken up another, more profound argument - on behalf of all Marylanders.
They should have just said: "Who needs another crab house?"
Anne Arundel County needs another crab house about as much as Towson needs another Starbucks, or Baltimore needs another closed Rite Aid.
Give me a break.
I mean: Hellooo? Has anybody in Galesville, that lovely waterfront community south of Annapolis, heard that there's, like, a crab crisis in Maryland?
I haven't eaten crabs or given any local chicken-necker my business for about three years now because of this. (All right, I had a spoonful of crabmeat salad at a fancy party on Preakness Day but, trust me, there was a lot of social pressure there and I was practically force-fed. Honest. Really. Plus, it tasted like Gulf crab, not Maryland crab. I can tell the difference.)
Here's where I come down: There should be at least a one-year moratorium on the crab harvest in Maryland - just to see if it'll spur a rebound.
Annual harvests dropped from 55 million pounds in 1993 to 21.7 million pounds in 2000, well short of the eight-year average of 31.4 million pounds. The 2001 total was about 24.5 million pounds. Maryland watermen pulled 23.7 million pounds of hard, soft and peeler crabs out of the Chesapeake Bay and the coastal Atlantic in 2002.
Scientists keep saying the crab populations are in serious decline, but what do we do?
We open another crab house - so people can come to the banks of the Chesapeake and eat crabs from the Gulf of Mexico.
Or they can go to Harborplace and eat crab cakes made from crabmeat from Bangkok, or Katmandu, or Kuala Lumpur, or wherever.
Does anyone feel ridiculous about this?
I was starting to think we'd finally figured it out. After years of bad news about crabs, the state struck a deal with Virginia to take steps to cut back the annual harvest by 15 percent over three years. It was far from a flat-out moratorium, but it was a start.
We got a new governor - not that's there's anything wrong with that - and we started seeing headlines that said: "Ehrlich to ease limits on crabbing."
Then came this: New regs allowing watermen to catch hard crabs as small as 5 inches and peeler crabs as small as 3 1/4 inches until July 15 each year.
I don't get it.
We're not talking about a mere food source. We're talking iconic crustacean here. And we're talking about an extended industry feeding off the crab - from the obvious stuff, like tourism and restaurants, to the real estate market and the quality of life throughout the Chesapeake region. All of that is tied in some way to the crab - God help us! - the prize product coming out of Mencken's great protein factory.
So, OK, what are we doing? We're making the legal catch-size smaller. We're arguing about liquor licenses instead of telling a guy who wants to open another crab house that he should open a shop to make Adirondack chairs instead.
You heard me. That guy in Galesville could put watermen to work making wooden lawn and deck furniture during the year they'd be out of work under an outright crab moratorium. The state could put up the seed money.
In Georgia, the state is close to getting federal relief for the watermen while they sit out a season or two. The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the crab fishery there a disaster because of an "unprecedented decline of blue crabs in Georgia waters ... and a significant loss of income to commercial fishermen." Georgia officials are seeking $2.3 million in direct aid to crabbers and another $1.5 million to fund research to help restore the crab population.
We ought to be doing something like this before it's too late.
But I said that before. And what did it get us? Five-inch crabs.