The Washington Times-Herald

Community News Network

October 15, 2013

Soaking up the wisdom of the watermen

(Continued)

Most of VanAlstine's crab pots — square metal cages with a pocket in the center for bait — were onshore due to the poor crab season, but we headed for the more open waters of the bay to check on the few that he did have out. When we arrived at his pots, VanAlstine donned orange overalls, work gloves, a long shirt to avoid jellyfish stings and then, with surprising speed, started yanking the pots into the boat.

Only a few crabs scuttled out of each pot. He separated, or "culled," the creatures based on factors such as size and sex and then threw the pot back with a fresh bait fish. (People on longer tours can participate in crabbing and take some of the catch home to eat.)

VanAlstine proudly says that he's known for having some of the best crabs: Each has to pass his "squeeze test," which means pinching the corner of each crab's shell to feel whether it's hard. This means that the crab is mature and thus has more meat. He'll later sell these beefiest crabs directly to buyers at a retail price.

Our next stop was VanAlstine's oyster grounds, which he leases from the state. The oyster population is still less than one percent of its historic numbers in the Chesapeake Bay, but the numbers are climbing slowly due to oyster sanctuaries and habitat restoration.

Each year, VanAlstine buys oyster larvae from the state hatchery, puts them on oyster shells and releases them into his oyster grounds, hoping that the babies, called spats, will grow on the shells and become marketable adult oysters in a few years.

He idled the boat over an oyster ground that he'd seeded earlier this summer and pulled out the 16-foot-long oyster tongs, essentially two long wooden poles with a metal basket attached to the bottom that opens and closes like toothy jaws. VanAlstine stepped up onto the edge of his boat, lowered the basket into the oyster bed and opened and closed the poles with rapid, scissorlike movements, scraping up the oysters.

Text Only
Community News Network
  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • A night in Ferguson

    For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald's a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown's shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby.

    August 14, 2014