[00:00.00]What have ten legs, two of them large claws, a hard shell cover, and live in oceans, fresh water, and on land? Crabs, of course!
[00:16.01]There are thousands of different kinds of crabs all over the world.
[00:23.23]They can be as small as a few millimeters across or grow as big as 4 meters.
[00:31.93]And all play an important part in the environments in which they live.
[00:39.73]Crabs may look strange.
[00:42.95]But many people also find them delicious.
[00:47.35]The blue crab is an especially popular crab for eating in the United States.
[00:54.30]These crabs can grow up to about 23 centimeters and they get their name from the blue coloring on the legs and claws.
[01:06.53]Blue crabs live in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, and in the Gulf of Mexico.
[01:15.92]However, one place in America is especially famous for its blue crabs: the Chesapeake Bay.
[01:25.24]This largest U.S. estuary borders Maryland and Virginia.
[01:31.65]Both states have long made use of the Chesapeake for food, transportation, and fun.
[01:41.64]All around the area you can see images of the blue crab on clothing, advertisements, cars, and in restaurant windows.
[01:53.11]Scientists in Maryland and Virginia say the bay holds hundreds of millions of blue crabs.
[02:01.31]From early spring through much of fall thousands of people hit the water to capture some of these creatures.
[02:10.46]Pete White works with Captain White’s Seafood City in Washington, D.C.
[02:17.28]The family-owned business gathers crabs and other seafood from the bay and sells it at its store right along the Potomac River.
[02:28.14]White told VOA that his family has been in the business for about 100 years. He is a big fan of Chesapeake blue crabs.
[02:39.78]“[These] are the best crabs, in my opinion, out of all the country,” White said.
[02:47.08]“I get a lot of people coming from Pennsylvania … a lot of people out of Jersey, New York, North Carolina. … They come from Georgia and they take them home on their car ride.”
[03:00.86]White said blue crabs are special because of their sweet meat.
[03:06.55]There are many ways to cook blue crabs. Some people like to grill them, while others make crab soup.
[03:15.30]But the cooking style most traditional to the area is steaming.
[03:21.46]The first step, White explained, is to combine water or beer with vinegar in a large, metal container. Then, White adds “Old Bay.”
[03:36.70]Old Bay is a seasoning product of hot and salty spices.
[03:43.00]It was created in Baltimore, Maryland in 1939.
[03:48.33]Then you turn on the heat and wait for the liquid to boil.
[03:54.38]The crabs are always cooked alive.
[03:58.36]But, White suggested, they should not touch the water directly.
[04:04.79]They normally are placed flat on a rack just above the water.
[04:10.34]Old Bay can be added to each layer of crabs.
[04:15.48]It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the steam from the boiling liquid to cook the crabs.
[04:23.55]Then, they are removed from the container.
[04:28.00]And White said, they can be mixed with more Old Bay.
[04:33.22]Cooking crabs is fairly easy.
[04:36.98]But eating them can be a challenge.
[04:39.95]The shells are still very hard.
[04:43.54]Some people use special tools called crackers and mallets to crack the shells and reach the meat.
[04:52.91]Other use their hands, breaking at weak points of the shell.
[04:58.31]Either way, it is a messy meal that usually leaves the eaters covered in shell, bits of meat and lots of red seasoning.
[05:10.46]Each blue crab only has between about 60 and 100 grams of meat in them.
[05:17.97]So sellers most often sell them by the bushel, meaning in groups of about 60 to 100.
[05:26.18]People usually buy them when they are feeding a lot of people.
[05:32.03]The so-called crab feast has become a summer tradition in the Chesapeake region.
[05:38.93]Kate Livie knows a lot about crab feasts.
[05:43.13]She is the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland.
[05:51.82]Livie says that close access to the Bay and its resources have always been important to people.
[05:59.84]Native Americans such as the Powhatan, the Piscataway and the Nanticoke lived in the area long before Europeans arrived in the 1500s.
[06:12.95]Scientists have found evidence that these Native Americans enjoyed crabs as well as other seafood, such as oysters.
[06:22.99]In fact, oysters were the main seafood of choice from the Chesapeake for many early years, Livie says.
[06:31.14]But improvements in food preservation, especially in keeping it cold, changed everything for the crab market in the warm summer months.
[06:42.08]“Although [blue crabs] were [eaten] through the 17th and 18th century, you couldn’t sell more than you could eat in a day,” she told VOA via Skype.
[06:56.10]“So food preservation [technology] and transportation turned crabs from, kind of, free but priceless, into an incredibly successful and economically [important] harvest.”
[07:09.87]There was also improvement in the crabbing industry.
[07:14.66]A local fisherman invented a trap for crabs in the 1920s.
[07:20.99]The trap, called a crab pot, made it easier to catch the animals.
[07:27.15]Plus, Livie says, Old Bay and some advertising campaigns helped grow the crab market.
[07:37.62]And she she says the blue crab became a major part of the Maryland identity.
[07:45.32]However, the blue crab has weathered some stormy seas.
[07:50.15]Bruce Vogt is a manager of the Chesapeake Bay office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
[08:01.44]He says that pollution and other problems have had a serious effect on the health of the bay and its crabs.
[08:10.86]In fact, in 2008 scientists reported that the blue crab came very close to disappearing from the Chesapeake completely.
[08:21.71]But efforts that began in the 1970s to improve the Chesapeake’s conditions continue, Vogt says.
[08:30.06]And this year, researchers estimated there were 254 million female blue crabs in the bay, the largest population since 1990.
[08:43.22]Vogt argues that people who love crabs cannot simply hope they will always be there.
[08:50.62]He says people must work to guarantee their survival.
[08:55.25]That is why experts push for conservation action, including limiting the harvest of females to about 25 percent.
[09:04.99]“There’s obviously a lot of work to do,” Vogt told VOA via Skype.
[09:10.88]“We can’t just sit back and expect that everything is going well now and we’ll have crabs in the future.”
[09:19.15]I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Lucija Millonig.