by Lisa Tome
The day starts early for Jake Ritter.
Five - six days a week, Ritter, is out in the Chesapeake Bay at Poole's Island North by 4:30 a.m., setting his pots.
Ritter is one of a different breed of the few and the proud. He's a commercial crabber.
At the age of 18, he's a veteran. He's been crabbing commercially for five years. He learned the art of the catch from his father, Jeff, and his neighbor, Captain Vernon Bryant. He said it's a challenge to get a commercial crabbing license. His grandfather was also a commercial crabber. "Is there anyplace else you'd rather be? You don't do it to get rich. You do it because you want to," said Ritter. "You have three or four months to make a year's worth (of profit)."
The job comes with many challenges. Drowning and a myriad of water injuries are potential hazards. Crabs are also feisty creatures. Ritter said he is pinched by crabs at least 20 times a day. "It's not pleasant," Ritter laughed.
Ritter will head to trade school at some point. He graduated from the Cecil County School of Technology's Electrical Trades program in January. He earned another diploma from Perryville High in June. He was also recently honored for placing 19th in the country in the SkillsUSA competition in the electrical field.
And although he'll head into higher education and another career in the electrical field, he plans to always maintain his status as a commercial crabber.
"It's in my blood. Most days, I love it. You just got to go do it and keep hoping and praying," he said.
Ritter was selling his crabs to Chris Shelton last week. Shelton in turn, serves up the crabs at his North East area restaurant. Captain Shelton is also a commercial crabber and said he appreciates what Ritter does. Ritter has been selling crabs to Captain Chris' Crab Shack for four years. "He's carrying on a tradition. It's getting tougher and tougher to make a living crabbing. But I so appreciate the heritage aspect," said Shelton.
While people gobble up more than four million crabs each year at Captain Chris', you won't likely find Ritter there dining.
"I get tired of looking at it. I'm not going to go out of my way to eat crabs. I have maybe two dozen a year," said Ritter.