The recreational crabber will be found almost everywhere. On a pier or public dock they can be spotted with a hand net, dipping it into the water near a piling.
From boats, piers or river banks, others can be seen holding a length of string with a piece of bait tied to an end.
Commercial crabbers ply the waters of the bay from the Susquehanna to the North, to the Virginia cape to the South. Whether it is Smith or Tangier Island; Annapolis or Kent Island; Deal Island or another location, commercial watermen set out long before the sun rises. Regardless of weather, their vigil covering many hours on any given day can be fruitless if the crabs are not running.
Weather beaten faces showing years of hard, back breaking work are everywhere. Their eyes tell a story of a way of life most of them would not trade, and non-watermen simply would not understand.
Commercial watermen will utilize a number of methods to catch their quarry, including creating special areas to raise their own crabs.
Some will use bottom-lines, a series of metal crab traps strung in a long row, held by a long length of line. A float at each end marks the beginning. Pots are pulled one after the other then placed back in the water. Other commercial crabbers will use a scrape. This is a flat bottomed device which is pulled along the bottom across grassy areas in very shallow water. It does not pull up the grass, but does capture soft crabs in the process of molting. The scrapper is only used in these grassy areas as soft crabs go here to feed and hide until their shell is hard enough to venture back out to deeper water.
Occasionally someone will try dredging. A large metal dredge is pulled across the bottom literally digging the crabs from the muddy bottom. Authorities have been taking a dim view of this practice. Shedding floats or bank floats are also utilized.
Many crabs are taken to packing houses where they are sorted, cooked and their meat picked then put into cans. Some of the crabs consumed in Maryland are imported from other states while our own crab is exported for a higher price. As restrictions change, so does the livelihood of the crabber. As factors such as rainfall and ecology are affected, the number of crabs fluctuates.
No matter what type of crabbing is done, and by whom, there are rules set down by the state and the Department of Natural Resources. They cover the sizes and types or male and female crabs which can be kept by any crabber. The number of traps; crabbing gear used, and the type of crabbing done will also determine whether a license is needed and what type is necessary. It is the crabber who must constantly check the rules to make sure they are in compliance.
No matter what method is used the weather plays a major part in the crab harvest. Storms churn up the water and the crabs are blown to a new location. Too much rain and crabs swim somewhere else where there is more salinity. Too much wind and the floats for crab traps blow across the surface dragging traps along. It is not uncommon for crabbers to not be able to find their traps after a storm.