Blue Crab Farming on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Humans have farmed a variety of crustaceans since the 1990s, but the blue crab remains an anomaly; it is one of the last foodstuffs to be successfully farmed for commercial purposes. As such, the only way to get a blue crab is to go out into the wild and catch one in its natural habitat. This is unusual among modern animal foodstuffs. Take for instance, the chicken. Can you imagine leaving your home with a net to catch a wild chicken at a game preserve? It is almost unthinkable for the majority of Americans to do anything other than purchase prepackaged chicken produced under the auspices of a large company like Perdue. Think, then, how strange it is that we automatically assume that the crabs we eat are fished for in the wild and that this fishing represents an inalienable right. Recently, the proliferation of this right has led to overharvesting that has depleted our natural reserves and now threatens to eradicate many species in their entirety. The potential extinction of the blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay means more than a hole in our regional estuarine food chain. It is yet another domino in the chain reaction that stems from the recent death of the Chesapeake Bay Oyster, and it points clearly to the global threat of mass expeciation, known to scientists as the Holocene extinction event . As this is an anthropogenic, or man-made, phenomenon, we have an obligation to countermand the harm we have done thus far. Preserving the heritage of biodiversity will be one of the great challenges for our generation and those that follow. As such, blue crab farming represents one small effort to shrink mankind’s ever-growing footprint.

Figure I - Aerial Perspective -"Blue Crab Farm at Night." Author illustration
This project suggests that blue crab farming on the Eastern Shore promises to perform two services: first, to provide locally grown foodstuffs to meet ever-growing regional demand; second, to alleviate commercial pressure on wild fisheries with the hope that the wild blue crab population can rebound in the Bay like the salmon population has in the North Atlantic. As such, the project is framed as a proposition in five parts:

i) An introduction to the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and its current plight

ii) A general primer on blue crab farming, program, and requirements

iii) A historical overview blue crabbing industry, precedents, and site analysis

iv) An Architectural proposal for a blue crab farm in Dorchester County, Maryland

v) A proposed future for blue crab farming in Maryland

The project employs a single thematic element to unify and amalgamate a thesis of many different parts—the concept of commensalism—a two-species association in which there is a positive effect on one species and neither a positive nor a negative effect on the other. While this term is similar to symbiosis, it does not imply a physical relationship, merely a beneficial adjacency. Mankind does not generally participate in commensal associations. In fact, mankind’s presence is a general indicator of blight. This thesis suggests that mankind’s presence need not entail a parasitic or harmful association. Instead, the project attempts to develop a series of commensal relationships at four levels of increasing specificity:

i) The level of the site

ii) The level of the program and programmatic relationships

iii) The level of the building itself

iv) The level of the architectural details


Figure II – Commensalism amongst species. Author Illustration.

[1] By some estimates, as much as 30 percent of the world's animals and plants could be on a path to extinction within 100 years.
[2] Pimm, Russell, Gittleman, and Brooks, The Future of Biodiversity, Science 269: 347-350 (1995)