Captured

Catch of the day

A Michigan native explores Maryland's crabbing culture

For Americans who make their homes along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, crabbing crews are as familiar a sight as the rising and setting sun. So Marcus Blake and his team were understandably a bit flummoxed when photographer Erin Kirkland asked to accompany them.

"I had to sell them on the idea that their story was interesting, especially for a Midwesterner," Kirkland, who hails from the Detroit suburbs and attended the University of Michigan, said in an email interview.

But the photographer managed to talk her way on board the Miss Kristi. During the summer of 2013, while interning for The Baltimore Sun, Kirkland would grow familiar with the salty vessel and its dedicated crew. Of course, those first few mornings provided the landlubber with more surprises than she bargained for.

"The first time I went out on the boat, I was not properly dressed," Kirkland says. "I wore shorts and tennis shoes and didn't bring any bug spray. The crew pretty much laughed at me when they first saw me. Fortunately, they were kind enough to lend me some oversized rubber pants and boots."

In addition to running Miss Kristi's crabbing crew, Blake and his wife Kristi (just like the boat) own and manage Blake's Crab House, a grab-n-go spot in Baltimore that showcases their fresh, local fare.

Keeping a family-run restaurant going is tough, but the crabbing business is tougher still. Blake and his crew trawl the Chesapeake Bay each morning, hunting for the famous crustaceans, which can migrate dozens of miles a day.

The work is decidedly old-school — no fancy tracking devices are used here. The key to successful crabbing, Kirkland learned, is knowing when to change the pots' bait, anticipating Mother Nature's whims, and trusting your gut.

After spending a summer documenting the process — from early mornings on the bay, to evenings seasoning and cooking the haul — the only question that remains is, Did she try the crabs?

"I did, and they were very, very good," she says. "Of course, since it's a family business, they have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to the seasoning recipe that they couldn't share with me, but whatever it is, they should keep on using it."

**See more of Kirkland's work via her website, or follow her on Instagram or Tumblr**

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