- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — Hurricane Isabel’s winds stirred the Chesapeake Bay, creating a bountiful harvest for watermen — and bargains for crab lovers.

John Graham says it has been 15 years since he has seen so many crabs on the docks of his Hampton processing plant. Crab baskets were stacked at eye level last week on the docks of Graham & Rollins, waiting to be cooked so pickers could process the crabmeat.

“I have 60,000 pounds of crab here, and that will give me 6,000 pounds of crabmeat,” Mr. Graham told the Daily Press of Newport News. “This is what I need to have a decent year. You have to have cheap crab. You have to have a lot, and I got them.”

October is traditionally the peak season for the famed Chesapeake crabbing industry.

Bill Brooks, an owner of J.M. Clayton Co. in Cambridge, Md., established in 1890, says, “October is to the crabbing business what July is for the beach. It’s the critical month that either makes or breaks you.”

The Sept. 18 storm was a bane and boom to the Bay. Although it put some watermen out of business, it pushed some crabs up into the Bay.

Bob Orth, an aquatic plants expert at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said about this time of year, baby crabs float along the Atlantic Ocean and near the mouth of the Bay. The direction of the storm shoved ocean waters — and, perhaps, more babies — into the Bay, which could help populations next year, he said.

Mr. Graham will sell some of his crab now, but he also will freeze a good portion of it.

“I’ll end up storing about 75,000 pounds of meat for sale later. That’ll take me through all the holidays, when I need it most and the price is the highest,” he said.

Before Isabel hit Hampton Roads, watermen were selling crabs to processing houses such as Mr. Graham’s for 45 cents a pound. Now crabs are being sold for 30 cents a pound, in part because they’re so abundant in the storm’s aftermath.

Only days after the storm, Mr. Graham said he thought the crabs were gone. And even if they weren’t, he said many of the watermen who would harvest those crabs were out of business. Some still are, but others have found their way back to the water.

Before 1993, Virginia watermen had no limit on their crab catch, and some watermen would bring in as many as 4,000 pounds a day, recalled John Graham Sr. In comparison, Virginia watermen now are limited to 51 bushels a day, or about 2,040 pounds.

“Resources come and go,” Mr. Graham said. “But Mother Nature has the upper hand on all of us. It’s not even a function of price anymore; it’s finding a home for all these crabs.”

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