Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2007-15


Taste the traditions: Crabs, crab cakes, and the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery.




Paolisso, M


American Anthropologist 109(4):654-665




For centuries, people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have harvested and consumed blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus). Historically, the production of the crabs was intimately connected to the work and knowledge of commercial watermen. In recent years, declining crab populations have resulted in an increased local use of pasteurized crab meat imported from Asia and South America. Also emerging is an ecological discourse that emphasizes pollution reduction to save crabs to eat. In this article, I analyze these production and consumption changes for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs within a broad-ranging framework of cultural models and environmental anthropology. Explicit textual information increasingly suggests that the cultural model of Chesapeake blue crabs as food is one of crab cakes made (with imported crab meat) in the "local tradition" and, to a lesser degree so far, is an emerging discourse presenting blue crabs as a culinary poster child for antipollution campaigns.

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