Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Field Trip: Eating Locally in the Chesapeake Bay

I'm proud to say that my wife and I just celebrated our fifth year of marriage.  To commemorate the occasion, we spent the weekend at The Tides Inn, a small, fancy-pants resort on the Rappahannock river near the Chesapeake Bay.

Needless to say, we had a great time.

One of the highlights of our trip was our sunset dinner cruise. Together with two other couples, our seasoned skipper Captain John, and his first mate/hostess, we made our way around the mouth of the Rappahannock and were treated to an excellent dinner of local shrimp (served "cocktail" style), local blue crabs, probably-not-quite-as-local-but-still-very-good pork ribs, and a bottle of Veritas Winery's Sauvignon Blanc (it was BYOB).

The shrimp and the crabs (made especially for our dinner) were each outstanding. I must admit that I'm a novice when it comes to eating crabs (for my dinner companions, I imagine watching me eat them was akin to watching a hyperactive kid play Whack-a-Mole), but what meat I was able to pick out was sweet and delicious. It's kinda cool to think about how, only two and half hours east of us, the meaning of "local food" can be entirely different. Here, we may think of tomatoes, beef, or squash; there, it's crustaceans.

I was disturbed, however, by a couple of stories I heard about the diminishing population of crabs, both in the Rappahannock and the Chesapeake Bay at large. The most surprising story was told by a dinner companion: Three crab boats went out to collect crabs one recent morning. After hours on the river, they returned with only one bushel of crabs between them.

I did some quick Googling when I got home and, though I couldn't confirm the story I'd heard, I did discover how it could be true. According to this recent report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (PDF), crab populations have been decimated over the past two decades from over-harvesting and local and upstream pollution.

I won't get on a soapbox, but I would encourage you to at least skim the report. The happenings in Charlottesville may not directly affect the conditions of the Chesapeake, but consider the inverse. Pollution aside, knowing that they're being harvested at an unsustainable rate will certainly make me think twice before ordering my next crab cake. By doing so, hopefully Captain John will be able to continue his surf 'n' turf cruises for some time to come.


  1. you'd better eat all the fish and crustaceans you can now before the oil makes them all even more nasty than they already were. b'leev dat.