Dear Librarian: What is the history of the blue crab and the significance to the people of Maryland?
Dear Reader: Who has not heard of or enjoyed our famous Maryland Blue Crabs? Maryland is known for them, and visitors come to sample our regional delicacy. We all know not to order a crab cake anywhere else lest we be disappointed because, even though there are many different species of crab, Maryland crab is truly the best.
Blue crabs have been harvested and consumed for centuries. The earliest archeological evidence indicates that crabs were an important part of the Native American diet near the Chesapeake Bay. Little is known about how they prepared them, but Native Americans did harvest the bounty from the bay. The word “Chesepiook” is an Algonquin word meaning “great shellfish bay.” The Susquehannock Indians, a subdivision of the Algonquin, lived along the Susquehanna River and northern portion of the Chesapeake Bay. They gave this name to the bay because of the extraordinary quantity of crabs, oysters and clams in the waters. As colonial settlers arrived, the native people most likely showed them how and where to catch crabs as well as other delicious creatures from the bay.
In the 1600s, colonial settlers were enjoying crab recipes. Versions of the crab cake began to show up in the mid-1800s as crabs were being caught commercially in the Chesapeake Bay. With the ability to transport the crabs and their meat to other areas of the state, crabbing became an economic industry and provided a living for many families. Today, crabbing is still an important industry in our state.
In 1989, the Maryland blue crab (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun) was designated the state crustacean (Chapter 724, Acts of 1989; Code State Government Article, sec. 13-301(b)). Its name honors the scientist who described the species in 1896, Mary Jane Rathbun (1860-1943). The blue crab’s scientific name translates as “beautiful swimmer that is savory.”
The blue crab is one of the most important species harvested in the bay. It has the highest value of any commercial fishery, and also supports a significant recreational fishery. During the last two decades, scientists have studied and learned a lot about the Chesapeake blue crab. They have developed guidelines for managing the crab harvest so that their bounty will be available for generations to come. A clean Chesapeake Bay, including water quality improvements and bay grass restoration efforts, is essential to the health of blue crabs. Legislation has been enacted to help regain the bay’s health, and we must all do our part to help keep it clean.
We Marylanders do love our crabs. Whether enjoying a uniquely Maryland crab feast or enjoying them prepared in a variety of ways, we have the taste for crabs. So, embrace your heritage, break out the Old Bay, get that steamer going and support your local economy! Are you hungry yet?
Answer to Last Week’s Tickler: Are ZIP codes required for all mail going through the U.S. Postal service? If you drop a letter in the mail and forget to put the ZIP code on it, chances are good that the mail will arrive where it needs to go, though it may take a little longer. But ZIP codes are required on bulk mail and business reply mail.
This Week’s Tickler: What is a male crab called?
Coming Events: Join us at the Perryville Branch Library at 7:00 p.m. on Aug. 15. Local author Alan Fox will tell us about the fascinating history of Perryville. The presentation will include photos from his “Images of America” book on Perryville.