Blue crabs, poached fish and powdered booze

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Sitting at my perch as the last piles of snow on the docks melted, the vision of May in the Bay was a marvelous thing, indeed. If you are a regular reader of this column, perhaps you remember my prediction of a mild winter in the eastern United States. In reference to that prediction, I received the following email from an old friend in Maine:

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Question: What do Peter Bass and the Farmer’s Almanac have in common?

Answer: Both forecasted a mild winter for 2014-2015.

His next paragraph detailed New England’s extraordinary weather this winter and my shortcomings as a meteorologist. Of course, my prediction was based principally on the inverse relationship between the percentage of boats winterized at Tidewater Marina and the severity of the weather to be expected. Feel free to call for investment advice, however. I have a similar success rate.

Blue crab slumber party

Pleasure boats aren’t the only hibernating creatures at the bottom of the Bay. Dug into the mud at the mouth of the Bay are the female blue crabs of the Chesapeake, waiting to release their eggs, beginning in late April, to be swept out to sea as larvae and then back in a month or so on flood tides. The chances of survival are slim, with just one or two eggs out of a million from each crab making it to adulthood.

There was a fine article in The Washington Post this winter that was picked up in our local daily newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot. It details the life cycle of our signature crab and chronicles the precipitous crash of the stock after the winter of 2013-14. (Google “Washington Post crabs,” by Darryl Fears.) That below-normal winter may have knocked out 30 percent of the adult population, which had hit a 21-year high in 2012.

The 59-foot Trumpy Chesapeake, gliding south at Mile Zero, has been chartering in Flrorida and on the Intracoastal Waterway. If you'd like a piece of yachting history, she's on the market.

As you read this, the females are coming out of the mud, releasing untold trillions of eggs and then heading up the estuaries. The guys have been hanging out up the Bay, waiting for the girls to come back; they’ll only mate once and store sperm for many cycles. These millions of encounters are roughly equal to a weekend of hookups at all the tiki bars in Kent Narrows.

How to poach a fish

This winter featured stories that disgusted both commercial and recreational anglers trying to preserve some of the signature fish of the Bay. One was a poaching incident, and the other was the start of a yearlong prison sentence for a Tilghman Island waterman in connection with an arrest dating from February 2011. Unlike the states where the striped bass is strictly a game fish, Massachusetts, Virginia and Maryland have a commercial season for stripers. The seasons are tightly regulated, and all have periodic instances of poaching and illegal activity, due to the high value of a limited product on restaurant menus.

On Tilghman, a lifelong waterman, who also was chief of the volunteer fire department, was arrested in 2011 with several others and charged with illegal fishing, catching far more than their quotas and hiding the transactions. He began a year in federal prison in February. Not only did he and his accomplices pay the price, but the 20,000 pounds of illegally caught stripers also forced regulators to slash quotas for other watermen, many of whom vocally sided with those arrested. It’s a complicated story and well covered in a Baltimore Sun article by Catherine Rentz.

In Chesapeake, Virginia, at a popular fishing spot known as The Cove, off the Deep Creek section of the Intracoastal Waterway, marine police confiscated 3,000 pounds of illegally netted speckled trout and red drum, according to an article in The Virginian-Pilot by Lee Tolliver. The two fisherman said they were just getting a few fish for Chinese New Year celebrations. Evidently they were planning to treat about 1,000 of their closest friends to a traditional good-luck meal known as twice-poached fish.

I’ll take a Twanger

My old friend Jack paddled the Allagash River in northern Maine more than 50 times. He also enjoyed a few drinks around the campfire, and prior to a trip he would cache a number of vodka bottles at strategic places. He was known for a drink he called a “Twanger,” made with vodka, Tang and river water. I thought of him recently when I read in my local daily that Virginia had decided to outlaw the sale of powdered alcohol drinks, an innovation that would have made Jack’s trip planning much easier. It also sounds great for the yachting crowd.

The product, which has yet to be introduced in the United States, is attracting the attention of state lawmakers faster than you can shake a martini. Between the folks thinking that it will be the ruination of America’s youth and those in the bottled spirits industry, the product might get strangled before it ever gets on its feet. The science is explained on the website of the presumptive U.S. manufacturer, Palcohol.com, which estimates that it will be for sale somewhere in the States in 2015.

Think of your boat’s freshwater system as an endless mojito. Perhaps someday Palcohol can be purchased in bulk, and one water tank could be converted to the tropical drink of your choice. Make mine a Twanger.

Today at Mile Zero

As I write this, we’re having the ultimate spring-tease day: sunny and 70 in the first week of March. We have a cool-down coming and perhaps another night in the 20s, but I feel we have thrown off the shackles of winter. Mile Zero came alive, as well, with two boats under sail in the river, a motor- yacht pulling into the marina for the night and a big sailing cat stopping for fuel. The yard here launched a sailboat and hauled another for bottom painting. As you read this, I hope winter will be a dim memory, but today’s warm sunshine has been an elixir that needs no additives.

It’s never dull here at Mile Zero. See you at the bottom of the Bay, the top of the Ditch.

May 2015 issue