Cameron Fletcher, Student Technican
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Posted on July 1, 2011 | Permalink
First Week On the Job
I couldnít have asked for a better first week at the Maryland DNR. My first day on the job I boarded a boat with Steve Vilnit, four chefs from restaurants all over Maryland, and two Baltimore Sun reporters, in an attempt to excite the chefs about how their food makes its way to their kitchens. As we made our way down the Choptank River, we ran into some people that made the trip even more exciting. The boat we were on was rigged with an oyster dredge, so the chefs thought they would only be learning about oysters. Lucky for us, we met up with Robert Cannon, an 88 year old waterman who was out checking his trot line for crabs. Once the chefs knew a little bit about how crabs were caught, we lowered our dredge in hope to catch some oysters. When the dredge came up from the water, the waterman dropped the oysters onto the table and the chefs were amazed at the number and size of the oysters. They immediately began to pry them open and slurp them down, conversing with each other about how they would cook them. I not only learned about the oysters and how they are caught, but I also learned about some great ways to cook them!
Continuing on the Choptank we came upon the Robert Lee, a boat with the Oyster Recovery Partnership, and began watching them spray oyster shells into the bay. These shells had spat, or baby oysters, on them, and putting them into the bay would increase the oyster populations, increasing the filtering of the bay water. This was great for the chefs, as they all donate their oyster shells to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, and they could now see what their shells were used for. Our run in with the Robert Lee led us to visit Horn Point, the headquarters for the Oyster Recovery Partnership. Here we met up with one of the lead biologists, and he gave us a tour of the facility. Restaurants donate their oyster shells to this program and ultimately help return oysters to the bay. Once the shells reach Horn Point, they undergo a 1 year cleaning process so that they are suitable to support oysters. Once clean, the shells go into tanks with oysters, and soon enough the oysters will set onto the shells to begin feeding and growing. This is when boats such as the Robert Lee take them back out to the bay. In about three years, they will reach market size, and the cycle will continue. The chefs were simply ecstatic to learn about this process and couldnít wait to start fundraising efforts to support the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
Our boat ride in the Choptank came to an end but before the day was over, we had one more stop, the J.M. Clayton crab picking house. Here we were educated about how the crab meat that we eat makes it from the crab to our plate. We saw the large steamers where the crabs are cooked, the lines of workers hand picking crab meat with speeds up to 8 seconds per crab, and the old canning machine that freshly seals the meat. The great part about this particular factory is that everything is all natural and no chemicals are added to the crab meat. The chefs were so inspired that they were already making deals with J.M. Clayton to start buying their crab meat locally. All in all, the entire trip was a huge success. Each chef stepped off the boat with more knowledge of their food and was excited to start buying locally, which we all know is better for our environment. Our job was done; these chefs would share their experiences with other chefs, spreading the excitement and promoting local seafood.
Later on in the week David and I had the pleasure of working with John Mullican, and some other biologists surveying Beaver Creek for brown and rainbow trout. Little did I know we were fishing for the trout using electricity! Electrofishing turned out to be a pretty efficient way to catch the trout and every other fish in the stream that we werenít interested in surveying. I was careful not to shock myself when the electric probe was in the water, but a local owner of the nearby fly fishing shop who was helping with our survey wasnít as careful and shocked himself 14 times! Luckily it didnít seem to bother him too much, he just laughed it off. After the first day we ended up catching 98 trout and the second day we caught even more! It was really cool to look at them up close and admire their beautiful color patterns. The biologists also said that we caught more fish than last year, which was good to hear! I canít wait to go electrofishing again!