Sunday, July 23, 2006
'Chesapeake crabs' born in the Hudson Valley
By DAN SHAPLEY
No one sits down at a restaurant and buys "Hudson River" crab cakes. Except, that is, when they buy "Chesapeake Bay" crab cakes.
Blue crabs are emblematic of the Chesapeake Bay region in a way wine is of California's Sonoma Valley or maple syrup is of Vermont. Festivals celebrate the crab, and whole towns are built around the "watermen" who bring in the catch.
We lack the cachet, but New York vineyards make great wine, our forests yield great syrup, and yes, the Hudson River teems with blue crabs.
New York syrup is often bought by Vermont distributors, slapped with a Vermont label, and sold as Vermont syrup. Now, the same thing has happened with blue crabs.
Summer 2006 has been a banner year for blue crabs in the lower Hudson River, where Bobby Gabrielson Sr.'s family started catching them several weeks earlier than usual in the Tappan Zee near Nyack. The crabs are bigger than usual — some nearly eight inches across.
This month, a buyer from Crisfield, Md., loaded a truck full of Gabrielson's Hudson River blue crabs for sale at the "Blue Crab Capital of the World," as that city on the bay bills itself.
"If you can believe it or not, the driver told me his father's a commercial crabber in Crisfield, and he said he hadn't seen a crab that big since he was a boy," Gabrielson said.
Someone in Crisfield is eating Hudson River blue crabs branded with the Chesapeake label. Maybe it happened at the 30th annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake Wednesday, which promised an all-you-can-eat feast for $35.
Sadly, for the Chesapeake, where seafood is renowned, efforts to restore the polluted bay have so far failed. So, importing the catch of the day is nothing new.
Pollution takes toll
Blue crabs came to dominate the commercial fishing — and tourist — industry only after the once-robust oyster catches declined. Now, most oysters sold come from the Gulf of Mexico, and some states have contemplated seeding the bay with a hardy Asian species of oyster. The crab population is also near a historic low in the bay.
Agricultural runoff and unchecked development as far from blue crab country as the Susquehanna River Valley in the Catskills harms the Chesapeake Bay. Overfishing hasn't helped, as excess nutrients and other pollutants, year by year, weaken the integrity of one of America's most productive estuaries.
There's a lesson for us.
Our river was once hospitable to oysters, and vast reefs covered the Tappan Zee. Conditions have improved enough that the state's Hudson River Estuary Program and nonprofit groups such as the River Project in Manhattan hope to seed a new oyster fishery in New York Harbor and the lower river in the coming decades.
If we protect the quality of water flowing into the Hudson from the many creeks and streams that feed it, maybe Gabrielson's family and other commercial fishermen can sell Hudson oysters.
Let people brand them any way they want.http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060723/COLUMNISTS07/607230344/1006/NEWS01