Season of changes for a family of watermen

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Harry Foote Jr., 74, a retired waterman with craggy features, surveys the setting sun gleaming through trees over the fishing boats docked on Armstrong Creek, and remarks, “What killed crabbing this season was that the market dried up. It wouldn’t matter whether we had a hurricane or not. People are broke. Not enough customers. Earlier in the season the crabs were immature. By the middle of September, the crabs are prime, full of meat. September and October were probably our best two months.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources extended the commercial crab season for mature female crabs for six additional days, through November 17, to compensate for the days lost due to Hurricane Sandy. However, Foote’s son, Harry Foote III, pulled his crab pots, maybe 600 or more, from his spots around Hart Miller Island and Tolchester in advance of Hurricane Sandy to avoid the risk of damage from storm debris.

Harry Foote III, 53, who is better known as Captain Harry around Bowleys Quarters, said, “Weather like this drives crabs away. Crabs don’t like fresh water. Once the temperature drops, the crabs start burying back into the mud.” For the younger Foote, the hurricane signaled the end of the crab season.

Captain Harry’s younger brother Kenny Foote, who is also a waterman, is still crabbing after the storm. Their father, who, like them, has been on boats from the time he was old enough to walk, observed, “You gotta be born into it, almost.” The elder waterman added a note of optimism for next year. “If the winter doesn’t kill them, there should be plenty of good crabs in the spring. Nature does what she wants to do, and you ain’t got nothing to do about it.”