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  1. Ashely Moreland, Student Technican
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Posted on July 1, 2011 | Permalink

Student Technican Highlights - Week 1

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Location: Maryland

On Monday, I had the privilege of accompanying Steve Vilnit of the Commercial Fisheries Outreach & Marketing program of MD DNR, as well as two other interns and a group of chefs on the Captain’s Lady, a charter boat launching out of Cambridge, MD. The Department of Natural Resources’ goal was to show chefs and students how exactly some of their seafood ends up from being in the water to being in a kitchen. Shortly after leaving the dock, we had the opportunity to observe a commercial crabber running his trotline, collecting all of the crabs on the line in a single net and dumping them into a container for sorting. Before returning to run the trotline again, the crabber was able to share a few words with us about the process and it was fascinating to learn that even someone 81 years of age can so enthusiastically make a living off the Chesapeake Bay.

We proceeded up the Choptank River and met up with the Robert Lee, a boat from the Oyster Recovery Partnership. The boat had old oyster shells piled high on its deck, all of which were being rinsed and dumped back into designated areas in the river. It was explained that these oysters shells, all of which were leftovers from oysters shucked for human consumption, would serve as the substrate on which new oysters could grow. After watching the shells being dropped back into bay waters, we moved a short distance further up the river and did a bit of dredging. We towed an oyster dredge behind the boat and pulled up several very large oysters which we had been told were grown using the oyster shell substrate method we had just witnessed, only these oysters had been growing for about five years. We got to shuck a few of the oysters right on deck and eat them raw, all the while learning about how to tell the approximate age of the oysters and seeing what other critters had taken refuge in the shells.

Next on the itinerary was an unexpected trip to the Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery, a part of the University of Maryland Center For Environmental Science. We docked at the hatchery and met up with Donald Meritt, manager of the hatchery, who then took us on a tour. We learned about their process of breeding adult oysters, and how they would gather the larvae and allow them to set on old oyster shells that they received from restaurants. We even had the opportunity to view some of these set larvae, now in their “spat” stage of life, under one of the hatchery’s microscopes. We also received an insightful lecture about how certain factors in the bay affect the growth of oysters, with one of the hatchery’s primary concerns for this season being the low salinity lows.

Upon leaving Horn Point, we traveled back up the river and were dropped off at a crab picking plant. After a short lesson on Maryland blue crab biology, we were able to tour the plant, seeing everything from the large vats they used for steaming up to 40 bushels of crabs at a time, to the picking room full of workers that could clean the meat out of a single crab at an astonishing rate, to the packing room where we got to see their mechanical means of sealing and labeling cans of lump crab meat. We even got to sample some of the pasteurized crab meat, which didn’t have any sort of added preservatives and tasted fresh out of the bay. The last part of our tour allowed us to see the mechanical picker that was a bit out-dated, but still an amazing contraption for picking crab meat with limited human interference necessary. After leaving the picking plant, the Captain’s Lady dropped us off at the dock, thus ending our amazing day on the bay. We had the opportunity to see some fascinating “behind-the-scenes” to oyster raising and crab handling, and the trip was definitely worth going on. My thanks go to the state workers, the watermen, everyone at the crab plant, the captain and crew of the Captain’s Lady, and DNR for making the trip possible.

Tags: Student, Oysters, Commercial, Blue Crab