A Day on the Chesapeake Bay
This past weekend I was invited to spend the day out in Cambridge, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank River. Steve Vilnit, the Director of Fisheries Marketing for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources organized a trip for a few food bloggers in the area to get a sense for how crabs, oysters, and other seafood are harvested in state of Maryland. We started the day by meeting at the J.M. Clayton Company which is the world's oldest crab house and has been around since 1890. Steve chartered a small boat to take us out on the Choptank River and Captain Billy lead the way. He had put out his line the night before which was over a mile long and contained approximately 300 bags of razor clams to attract the crabs (note: those bags need to be changed every day in order to remain fresh).
We started off on the boat and each of us had our hand at dragging the net and trying our best to catch crabs. We learned that female crabs mate for life, but produce 350 million eggs, and also that female crabs have red along their claws which looks almost like nail polish. We also learned that the crabs have to be measured to ensure they are legal size, and otherwise they need to be thrown back into the water. We all successfully caught a crab, and quickly realized how much harder it was than it looked. The net was heavy, and time of day and motion of the water can play a key role in catching crabs.
Once we brought the boat back in we made our way inside the J.M. Clayton Company to see how the crabs are steamed and picked. On a regular day there are upwards of 90 crab pickers working the assembly line to get the meat out to package and then sell to restaurants, grocery stores, or individuals. We learned that some of the fastest crab pickers can produce 60 pounds of crab meat per day! That requires good old fashioned hard work and fast hands. Additionally, we learned about the new True Blue program which is a labeling initiative that allows the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to certify restaurants that are accurately using fresh Maryland crabs. This certification will allow consumers to know where their seafood is from, and help to support the establishments that are sourcing locally. We learned that almost all crab comes from Indonesia and Venezuela, and that only 2-3% of restaurants are using real Maryland crab even though many are claiming to. Please take a look at the list of the restaurants in the DC/MD/VA area that are currently certified by the True Blue program and continue to support these businesses.
We took a few pounds of freshly picked crab meat and then made our way over to a pier where we learned about the Choptank Sweets Oyster Company and got to tour their oyster farm. They have hundreds of oyster beds along the dock and the beds are flipped every few weeks to ensure that they are all fed. Our new friend Bubba then shucked the oysters for us and we were able to top them with some crab meat and sriracha sauce and enjoy the fresh seafood straight from the source. They were amazingly delicious.
After a bit of time relaxing in the sand and sun, we called it a day and decided to take the advice of our new friends and head to one of the best seafood places in town for a great meal at Ocean Odyssey. Crab tots, crab balls, fried pickles, fish tacos, and my favorite... the Oysters "Bubba" Feller with garlic and bacon (named after our friend Bubba from Choptank Sweets). They were rich, indulgent, and fantastic.
It was a wonderful experience with friends and we documented the entire day by tweeting with the hashtag #BloggersontheBay. Tammy, Nikki, Laetitia, Amanda, Deb and I learned so much and we were so thrilled to be part of such a great day. If you'd like to learn more about the True Blue program contact Steve Vilnit (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.