- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Although Pastor Rick Edmund of Smith Island, in the Chesapeake Bay, blessed me at the end of his letter, he did no such thing in the first several paragraphs of his response to my column last Wednesday that dealt with the federal government handing out taxpayers’ money to commercial crabbers who haven’t done very well of late.

At the time, I inferred that it was a type of welfare program for people who were never pressured to go into this kind of business to begin with, so why not learn to accept the bad times along with the good?

Pastor Edmund wrote, “I read with sadness your comments about the $500 help-out some of the watermen are getting from the federal government. Actually it is only the ones who have filed crab reports [with the] Maryland DNR [and] who are Maryland residents. What about the ‘welfare’ payments made to farmers [who] are not growing crops? How would you like to lose 25 per cent of your income because of increased crabbing regulations like some of my church folk did who scrape for peeler crabs? Do you eat crabs? If you want Maryland crabs, then you’d better hope and pray that the watermen stay in business however they can. Or else you’ll need to catch your own crabs and a traditional way of life on the Bay will be gone.

“The fellows would rather not take a government check, but for some it is a matter of survival. How about all the other people who get ‘welfare’ and I don’t mean the poor. How about the double dippers getting retirement, and so many others who get privileges and money from the federal government? How about writing a positive comment about probably the most independent minded group of workers in this area.”

He signed it, “Blessings, Pastor Rick Edmund, Smith Island.”

I wrote the pastor that it really didn’t matter who got our hard-earned tax money, be they farmers, crabbers or other welfare recipients. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. I also told him that because of the high price of crabs, I catch my own with a trotline in a local creek whenever our family has a hankering for crabs. And while pollution in the Chesapeake Bay must concern all citizens, we must also address the fact that Virginia crabbers continue to be permitted to dredge crabs from the mud in the middle of the winter in some places, and in Virginia or Maryland it is not against the law to sell egg-bearing sponge crabs, which cries to the heavens in its unfairness. Yes, Maryland crabbers can’t market sponge crabs, but their cousins across the state line can, and do right here in Maryland.

Now, here’s a letter that represented the majority of e-mails about the government’s “Help A Crabber” program:

“Your comments regarding the welfare for crabbers struck a chord. Sure we all have good times and bad (unless we’re corporate top dogs) but for crying out loud since when do fishermen have a presumed right to a good catch? I grew up on the coast of New England, up where Gloucester families have lost hundreds of hard-working mates. They fish because it’s what they do and have done. Sure there’s grousing when the catch is bad and celebration when it’s good. This crabber handout is merely another lousy example of chumming the voters’ waters. Maybe the crabbers should send it back with a request for better government accounting. Rich H.”

A lousy experience in Hatteras — The way John Foxx Hyater, president of the local Big Fin Sportsmen Club, figures it, if you must go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to do some offshore fishing, settle a lot of questions before heading out with Captain Spurgeon Stowe and his Miss Hatteras headboat. On May3 the club loaded 39 anglers onto a chartered bus and drove seven hours to the captain’s dock for a pre-arranged outing. The moment the boat left the inlet, the seas became very rough, with wind-whipped waves up to 10 feet high. All things considered, 10-foot waves are OK if you’re on an aircraft carrier, but on a party boat it can make for a lousy experience.

Of the 39 fishermen, 35 became very seasick. Even the captain admitted that the ocean was so nasty his anchor wouldn’t hold bottom, nor could 16-ounce bottom-fishing sinkers keep the baits down deep and steady. Several anglers tried 24-ounce sinkers and even they wouldn’t keep the bait on the bottom. “I have been fishing for over 35 years,” said Mr. Hyater, “and have been in some rough waters, but this was the first time I have seen an entire fishing party get so violently ill.”

It is clear that the captain, who surely knows about weather, should never have left the harbor. The Glenn Dale, Md., fishing club paid $2,600 for an absolutely useless outing. “We were charged full fare for a half-day trip, and were taken out in intolerable conditions,” Mr. Hyater said. “It is totally unacceptable.” The captain should have refunded the club most of its money and thus maintained good relations for future outings. Attempts to reach the fishing service have been unsuccessful.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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