Two years ago, you could pretty much bank on it: Leave the dock at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and be back by 9 with a bushel or so of scrappy male crabs. Then it was just a matter of hooking up the cooker, herding the crabs into the steamer and sitting back for the 25 minutes or so it takes to turn them red and scrumptious.
In the evening it was crabs for six or eight or however many you could gather, followed by a picking session that left you with a pound or two of flaky white meat for crabcakes. That was the norm, from June to September, as it had been for the decade or more since I took up crabbing and for a century before that. Sometimes it was more than a bushel, sometimes less, but always there was a proper mess for supper if you took the trouble to go out.
Last year the bottom fell out. No one is quite sure why, but after an initial run in June, the crabs went scarce. It was eerie, because even in mediocre crabbing years, you catch a lot of little throwbacks, and in the fall there were always many females, which recreational crabbers are required to toss back for conservation. (Commercial crabbers, for inscrutable reasons, are allowed to keep females.)
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