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Good Read

Updated: Jan 19

 

“Beautiful Swimmers” (1976) by William Warner inspires and reminds us how lucky we are…

Frank Slevin

 

We’ve all had experiences on or around the water that remind us why we live here and how lucky we are…check out the most recent pop-up photos (left) as a reminder of one such day. It was awesome!


It goes without saying that the Lynnhaven River, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean waters are good to us. The coastal experience for most involves recreational activities such as boating or fishing, and LOC members treasure this time spent with friends and family on our local waters.


As newcomer aquaculturists and farmers, Chris and Frank are always looking for learning opportunities about oysters and the overall health of the river and bay. Another local farmer suggested a book called “Beautiful Swimmers” (1976), by William Warner.


The author takes a deep dive over the course of many years into the life of the watermen, the lifecycle and behavior of the crabs, and the overall ecosystems that are present in this estuary. Warner shares firsthand accounts of multi-generational fishermen, crabbers, and oyster harvesters and their unique ways of making a living from the bay’s bounty. There are numerous references in this book to the humble oyster and its role in defining the bay as we know it. From a food source for the bay regions’ first inhabitants to a source of income during the winter months for crabbers and fishermen over the last several generations, the oyster has had an outsized influence on humans and other creatures around the bay, especially considering its modest existence. There are nostalgic references to past bounties of fish, crabs and oysters and in-depth discussions about the local, state and federal policies that have both helped and hindered the working waterman over the years.


Yet the focus of the book turns firmly towards Callinectes sapidus (literally meaning ‘beautiful swimmer’), or the blue crab, and the ebb and flow of the crab’s life span, it’s habits and behavior, and ultimately, its influence on the human inhabitants of the region surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and the outside world.


Did you know that the blue crab will shed its shell or molt 7 times in its larval stage alone, and then an estimated 25 times during its adult life span? That’s a total of 32 times that a crab will literally walk out of its shell. This process, called ‘ecdysis’, is incredibly exhausting, and is where we find for a short period of time after this happens, the delectable softshell crab.


Crabs will migrate all over the Chesapeake and surrounding waterways in manners that are predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Warner references crabs that had tracking devices fixed to them and were shown to have gone to the deepest part of the bay during the winter to hibernate, while others swam out to the ocean and back, for reasons yet unknown! One female crab was tracked and swam south in the bay a total of 35 miles in a 3-day period! Beautiful Swimmer indeed!


These critters remain a vital part of the Bay ecosystem and are under incredible pressure due to over harvesting, potential predation changes, and environmental factors. Recent numbers for crab population estimates are at historic lows, and crabbers and scientists are concerned. It is evident though from Warner’s discussions over the course of his time with the watermen, that the crab has faced tough times before and has always resiliently bounced back. We’re optimistic that with cleaner water (thanks in part to more oysters!), smarter harvests, and sensible legislation, we can continue to enjoy Callinectes sapidus for years to come.

 

Member Note: We are always looking for subjects of particular interest to members. If you have some burning questions about oysters, the club or a related topic, let us know and we will address it in future issues.

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