Friday, January 11, 2019: You know it’s frigid when the Holgate Beach sands offer an astounding look-about for exposed goodies and I jump out of my truck … and jump right back in even faster. Bitter by my reckoning. Oh, I know it was above freezing, afternoon temps topping out in the high 30s. But those 25 to 35 mph westerlies, along with the fact I had gotten used to spell of mildness, had me looking for goodies through my windshield … and to mighty mysterious ends, I might add. See my faux amber and dried stingray finds below.
FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR'S DESK: I need to talk newspaperese for an instant -- after being sent three different stories about recent car/truck wrecks. We had rollover accidents on Rte. 72 and also on east Radio Road. The SandPaper seldom covers such collisions. Firstly, we’re a weekly news magazine, which means we’re more inclined to do a larger story on overall road safety. Far more significantly, a number of years back, a state law made it literally illegal for police, first aid squad members, firefighters, and, especially, hospitals to release details at all about any injuries suffered by crash victims. I hate to say it, but the injury info is mainly what everyone wants to know, so we just avoid the accident scene. While you won’t usually see them in print, they often lead to bigger stories.
Nonetheless, please keep the info coming in on what's what out there.
Of a similar note, I was sent a rather vivid video of a local school bus burning like crazy on the highway. No injuries, I’m told … off the record. However, that sort of thing is huge for me since we’ve already been researching stories of aging school buses. That's an example of how I use random, non-published reports for insights into larger overall stories. Thanks to those who send in the latest happenings – or “mention” me on Facebook posts so I don't miss them.
Here's a telling aerial photo taken by a buddy of mine, Kevin Douthitt. It shows that piece of land west of the first part of Holgate Beach. It's becoming even more defined. Ready for developers to begin fighting over it.
And here's when he did a flyover of my truck on the beach ...
Found desiccated cow-nosed ray on beach. Offers a chance to see the "sting" at the upper part of the tail, near the ray's body ... NOT on the tip of the tail.
After a lifetime of combing beaches near and quite far, it’s a rare day that I come upon even a semi-baffling washed-up find. But, but lo and wtf, such was the case yesterday in Holgate. Driving along, I spied a large, weathered, somewhat rounded boulder sitting fairly high atop wet sand near the water. We are not in beach-boulder territory. It was enticingly out of place.
I was out of the driver’s seat and on it in a flash. The weirdness began equally fast. Lifting it up, I was surprised at the lightness. While it was close to 30 pounds, a legit boulder of that size would have been pushing 100 lbs.
I’ll herein admit my first thought, based on loads of experience, was … amber … glorious ancient amber! Whadda find!
But not so fast, Sparky.
Being something of a New Jersey amber pro, having dug Cretaceous amber for years up near Sayreville, I couldn’t avoid my initial brain-rush of bonanza thinking. It was buttressed by the fact that one of the largest pieces of NJ amber ever found (basketball size, if I remember right) washed ashore up in Monmouth County, seemingly loosed during beach replenishment in that area.
Note: Amber is relatively light. Washed into the sea, it either floats or rolls along the ocean bottom. The Baltic Sea is famed for amber roll-ups after storms. And my boulder looked quite rolled … and rolled many times again. Its outside layer, called the rind in the amber realm, showed the exact same roughed up surface look of river-rolled pieces of amber I’ve dug.
Eagerly hauling my boulder back to the truck, I was compelled by scientific inquisitiveness to perform some controlled tests on it. So I smashed that sucker open with a big-ass hammer.
Wow, what a pretty look -- shining in the sun, with the perfect glow of fresh amber. But, alack, no $10,000 cigar – approximate value had it truly been primordial tree resin. The material was far too fragile, far beyond amber’s generally fragile nature. Bummer.
And it would have been easier to ID my boulder had it been amber. Now, I was tasked to ponder a huge, well-busted pile of mysterious very resin-like material.
Right off, I can exclude it being modern resins, which are firmer and really not inclined to dry into the dark amber color of my … stuff. What’s more, my stuff has a decidedly organic, almost fir-like -- even incense-like -- smell, making me move toward it being primitive tree resin shellacs, hardened by time. Shellac has been used as a sealer, especially in ship building, going back well over a thousand years.
Back when, I’m betting is was a thick syrupy substance, possible prized, and barreled for transport … before being lost at sea. Again, I’m not giving up on the ship wreck angle – seeing we’re by the sea and all.
I’ll be doing microscopic work to see if any telltale inclusions are within, but I can tell at an initial see-through glance the material has been refined, probably filtered to some degree. I’ll need higher magnification to detect what will amount to mere traces of organic sources.
Anyway, this weird and colorful find proves the obvious: The ocean never stop regurgitating new and curious items.
The real-world implications from the partial shutdown of the federal government, which entered its 19th day on Wednesday, are starting to be felt by the fishing industry and other stakeholders.
In Gloucester, the shutdown effectively has shuttered the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on Great Republic Drive, impeding fishermen from dropping off documentation in person, contacting NOAA Fisheries personnel by telephone or email, and leaving other regulatory groups scrambling without essential input and participation from many NOAA Fisheries staffers.
So, while the New England Fishery Management Council remains at work, it is being hampered by lack of access to its federal management partners at GARFO and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.
"Since many GARFO and NEFSC scientists and fishery management specialists are key contributors to the council's plan development teams and provide critical input and analyses during committee meetings, the council is rescheduling or modifying the agendas of several meetings where NOAA Fisheries representatives were expected to provide pivotal presentations, reports and/or analyses," the council said in a release detailing the impact of the shutdown.
Several groundfish plan development team meetings have been revised or postponed. The groundfish committee will meet Jan. 15 at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers, but with a revised agenda.
The council's scallop advisory panel is still set to meet Jan. 17 in Boston and the full scallop committee is scheduled to meet the next day.
Council spokeswoman Janice Plante said the council's January meeting — set for Jan. 29-31 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire — will proceed as scheduled. Plante said the agenda for the meeting does not include any deliberations on final actions, but some discussions might be limited in their scope without input from NOAA Fisheries staffers and executives.
"Some of our discussions may be cut a little short if the shutdown is still in effect," Plante said. "We'll go forward and do as much as we can and move ahead as much as possible."
Paperwork, new season
The shutdown has not yet had a major impact on daily fishing beyond paperwork glitches on the filing of vessel trip reports, dealer reports and the like, according to David Leveille, manager of the Gloucester-based Northeast Fishing Sector II.
Leveille said those paperwork bottlenecks have left the groundfish sectors in the dark as to where they stand currently on quota and total catch.
"There are some problems with some of the systems, so we really don't know what's being updated," Leveille said. "They're still deploying observers, but the trip notification system isn't functioning correctly and if you look around the sector for the total groundfish catch, that's not being updated either. It's an ongoing process to reconcile these trips and they're all things you need people to figure out.
"It's only going to get worse. It's not going to be easy to get caught up when they come back."
Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said her primary concern is the shutdown could delay the intricate rule-making process that relies so heavily on NOAA Fisheries and the rest of the federal government, particularly with the May 1 start date of the new fishing season looming.
"There's a complex process for rule making whenever the council approves new regulations," Odell said. "It involves final analyses and technical work before final approval and the new rules are placed in the Federal Register. So, I'm concerned about what can be and what will be approved before the new fishing season."
President Donald Trump and top Republicans and Democrats met again Wednesday afternoon to try and negotiate an end to the partial government shutdown and the standoff over Trump's desire for $5.7 billion for a border barrier.
Vice President Mike Pence said Democrats were "unwilling to even negotiate" after Trump stalked out of the contentious meeting. "I think the president made his position very clear today that there will be no deal without a wall."
Late last summer, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a.k.a. PETA, purchased space on a billboard in downtown Baltimore. The ad featured a large crab with the caption: "I'm ME, not MEAT. See the Individual. Go Vegan." It was one of a series of PETA ads, dating to 2016, that had starred animals — cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, fish — imploring humans to eat plants instead of them.
Now PETA was coming for the crustacean that is a sacrosanct dish to a great number of Baltimoreans. (As the film "Wedding Crashers" puts it, "Crab cakes and football — that's what Maryland does.") "I said, 'This can't be real,' " recalls John Minadakis, 35, the owner and operator of Jimmy's Famous Seafood, a family-run restaurant in southeastern Baltimore. " 'There's no way they're that stupid.' "
But amid his incredulity, Minadakis also saw a chance to stir the proverbial pot. (Perhaps a pot in which multiple crabs are being cooked.) Two days after the billboard went up, Jimmy's Famous Seafood tagged PETA in a tweet containing a good-morning message, a crab emoji and a picture of steamed crabs smothered in seasoning. PETA replied that afternoon, saying it would "not be deterred by taunts because no one wants to be boiled alive."
By the time PETA clapped back, however, it was too late. Reply after reply poured in from users cheering on the restaurant and promising to stop in and buy a meal. Minadakis gave interviews to local Baltimore stations and appeared on Fox News' morning show "Fox & Friends" in early September. Pretty soon, what had been an isolated, local row blossomed into national news. Supporters from across the country, he says, began calling and emailing. Some, he reports, saw the restaurant's stand as an important rampart in the battle against political correctness.
In the eyes of Minadakis — whose nickname among friends is "The Crab" — the billboard was an existential challenge. "The crab and crab cake have put us through school, will put our kids through school," he says, referring to himself and Tony, his 33-year-old brother who runs the restaurant with him. "It's our family's income. That's what we know."
Their father, Demetrios, founded the restaurant in 1974 near the blue-collar suburb of Dundalk. A first-generation Greek immigrant who was known as Jimmy to friends, he raised his family in the apartment above. In those days, Jimmy's Famous Seafood was a one-room joint, without the spacious, wood-floored dining room that now sits behind the original space, which was converted into a casual bar.
Minadakis was 20 when his dad died in 2003. Suddenly, he and 16-year-old Tony were in charge. "We were little kids trying to run a business," he says. "Like any 20-year-old, you think you know everything when in fact you don't know anything."
The battle with PETA arrived at a difficult moment for the Maryland crab industry. The winter weather of 2017-18 had lasted longer than usual, delaying the start of crab season, which usually begins in early May. The prolonged cold killed an estimated 16 percent of adult crabs in Maryland. In 2017, there were 455 million crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, an estimate based on a wintertime dredge survey; in 2018, there were just 371 million.
Jimmy's stand against PETA's billboard, then, was almost like a bulwark in a time of need. "We were getting handwritten letters, phone calls on the landline, and then young guys emailing us from Crisfield and up and down the Eastern Shore," says Minadakis. "This is our livelihood, man. If [PETA is] turning people against the crab, it's putting you out of business."
Several weeks after his appearance on Fox News, Minadakis upped the ante. The restaurant erected a billboard of its own near the original billboard. Another enormous crab greeted onlookers, only this time with a different caption, one that was a subtle nod to PETA's slogan "I'm ME, not MEAT." It read: "SteaMEd crabs. Here to stay. Get Famous."
PETA, naturally, was not persuaded. "It's certainly no surprise that a seafood restaurant doesn't want people thinking about the fact that crabs are intelligent, sensitive animals who suffer when they're boiled alive," says Ashley Byrne, an associate director with the organization. On its website, PETA says that crabs being boiled "will fight so hard against a clearly painful death that their claws often break off in their struggle to escape" the pot. An investigation the group conducted about five years ago at a seafood processing plant alleged that crabs were dismembered alive.
As for the economic argument — that they are harming an important source of income for many Marylanders — PETA doesn't find it overly compelling. "Most people would never excuse boiling a dog or cat to death in a pot of scalding hot water on the basis of trying to make money. This is no different," Byrne says. "Sooner or later this industry will have to move ahead and innovate."
This wasn't the first time PETA has targeted a beloved local cuisine. The group had previously run an ad in Wisconsin, for instance, against mixing milk in your morning coffee. And shortly before it put up its billboard against Maryland's favorite shellfish, it launched a similar effort in Maine, buying advertisements in the Portland airport imploring visitors to eschew lobsters. (The ads received forceful pushback in an editorial by the Portland Press Herald.) In November, PETA took on another Baltimore institution, running television ads against Johns Hopkins University for conducting medical experiments on animals. The ads, according to the Baltimore Sun, used a teddy bear as a stand-in for a lab animal and showed it getting injected and cut up. Interestingly, that campaign didn't inspire the same backlash as PETA's campaign to protect crabs.
While both crab billboards have now come down, Minadakis says the feud has been good for business. "We've had people coming from Montana, Kentucky, Cincinnati. They've based their trips here over a tweet, telling us they just want to show their support," he told me at the restaurant in early December, as I sat taking big bites out of a Jimmy's crab cake sandwich. The restaurant's Twitter following ballooned to more than 100,000. And its online business — Jimmy's ships crabs and crab cakes nationwide — has surged. Compared with this time last year, the number of online orders has tripled.
The boon to business at Jimmy's causes no regrets from PETA. Dozens of people have told the organization that they have decided to stop eating crab altogether, according to Byrne. "The lasting effect of that greatly outweighs 30 seconds of attention on one stupid restaurant," she says.
The day of my visit, I parked in a new lot that had been paved the week before to accommodate the additional staff hired to help with the extra shipments. "Every sales email we get, every cold call, people say, 'Keep kicking PETA's ass,' " says Minadakis. "They changed our life."
Correction: A caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that PETA's billboard was located directly across the street from Jimmy's Seafood. The billboard was several miles from the restaurant.
Prosecutors discovered the interference charge is only for state waters, not a city-owned property like Crescent Lake, said State Attorney spokesman Frank Piazza. The other two charges the commission had recommended were battery, for taking the fish from under the foot of Hope’s wife, and petit theft. The theft charge seemed more appropriate, Piazza said.
Hope planned to cook the fish for dinner that night. A fish and wildlife investigator testified that, by the size of the fish and the price per pound of tilapia, the fish was worth about $6.
The incident happened on a chaotic dayin Pinellas County when animal activists, including the Leaming family, caused a scene inside a Pinellas Park Chick-fil-A. Their goal was to spread the message that “it’s not food, it’s violence.”
After that fracas, the Leamings said they headed to Crescent Lake Park and were discussing other matters. Then, they said, Landon Leaming, now 10, saw Hope and his son fishing from a concrete platform at the lake.
Hope caught a tilapia and realized he had forgotten the bucket he normally uses to hold his catch, he testified, so he asked his son Christopher to go back to the car and fetch it. Landon Leaming saw the fish flopping on the concrete deck and asked his father if he could say something to them.
“I told him not to worry about it, let them be,” Leaming testified Friday. But his son was upset so he let him approach the men and say, “Did you know that fish feel pain?”
Michael Leaming followed up, asking, what if it was a dog, or a human child on the concrete? The fisherman kept trying to shrug him off. But Hope’s wife, Brenda Hope, stepped in. She stood over the fish as she tried to unravel a fish stringer, used to submerge fish in the water. Leaming bent over and grabbed the fish and threw it back into the water, shouting, “Call the police! I just saved a fish’s life, how about that? How about that?”
In his closing argument, prosecutor Joshua Foutz noted that many fishermen simply leave their fish on the deck until they are done for the day and that “this was nothing more than a show for (Leaming’s) political beliefs.”
But defense attorney Peri Sedigh said, “This wasn’t theft, this was a rescue.”
Judge Robert Dittmer acknowledged that people get passionate about issues, but said the state has granted fishermen the right to fish the waters. He noted that commercial fisherman often put their catch on ice immediately, where the fish are left to die. He feared letting the door open on this could lead to sabotage of fishing vessels.
Dittmer withheld adjudication so Leaming’s record is clear. He also didn’t impose probation as the state had requested. Leaming could have been sentenced to 60 days in jail, six months probation and mandatory counseling.
After the trial, Leaming said he was happy he won’t have a guilty verdict but felt it was unfair to suddenly have to face a theft charge when they had prepared for the interference claim. He was sure he would have won that.
“I’m glad that my dad’s not guilty,” Landon Leaming said. “I felt sad that it was happening to this fish and I wanted to help the fish.”
Several vegan and animal rights supporters came to the trial. Though they weren’t involved in the protest that day, PETA has supported the Leamings.
“Any kind person would stop to help a dog who was gasping for air on hot pavement, and when it comes to the ability to feel pain and fear, a fish is no different from a dog, a cat, or a human being,” PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said in a statement.
Times staff writer Christopher Spata contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @SharonKWn.
Events have been moving very swiftly here in Washington in the past 24 hours.We learned yesterday, that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is planning to open up a set of 38 “priority” refuges with carry over funding from the last fiscal year. These funds are not extra funds - they are simply funds that haven’t been formally obligated for projects all over the Refuge System. These carry over dollars will actually allow for a select few refuge staff to be paid, while everyone else is either furloughed (not working and no pay) or “excepted” staff (those working but not getting paid). It is our understanding that they have only enough funding to do this for only up to 2 pay periods, or 1 month. We are extremely concerned about these openings. The Refuge Association strongly opposes this move. While we applaud the USFWS for doing their best under less than ideal circumstances to protect the resource and provide access to refuges for the public. We oppose these moves for the following reasons:
Currently, all Federal Wildlife Officers are working without pay, in most cases with no other staff present on each refuge they visit. If USFWS staff are brought off furlough and considered “exempt”, they will be paid, while these Federal Wildlife Officers will still be considered “excepted”, meaning they will NOT be paid.
To choose that some refuges are “priority” refuges and more important than others sends the wrong message to USFWS employees, volunteers and nonprofit Friends organizations that the work they do on their refuge is not important enough to be deemed a priority.
We have fought for over 40 years to increase the NWRS Operations and Maintenance (O&M) budget, in order to have adequate staff and resources on hand to manage our wildlife refuges. Supporting a move by the USFWS to open up only “priority” refuges and to severely restrict how those refuges are managed sends the signal that there is a priority ranking in the Refuge System. It is a slippery slope to drastically reduced funding for O&M overall.
Some in Congress could use this as an argument that the NWRS budget should be slashed dramatically and only open refuges as needed for public events or for habitat reasons.
Each refuge is part of a system of lands and waters that, as mandated by Congress, must be managed as a system. All refuges in the System should be open with paid staff managing our precious natural resources, not just a select few designed to make the American people think the shutdown is having no impact.
We realize the USFWS is trying to make the best of a bad situation, but in so doing, their actions can have unintended consequences. Further, O&M carryover dollars (funds from FY19 that are not spent yet - see last bullet) are finite and will only last a short amount of time (max 2 pay periods).
If USFWS “finds” funding to reopen a few selected refuges, the intended use of these funds for their intended purpose could be lost.
Congress appropriates funds for specific purposes and are supposed to pass spending bills by October 1st every year. Unfortunately, year after year, they fail to do so, resulting in refuges receiving their allocations later and later. This means that there are carry over funds at refuges nationwide right now - not because they have “extra money” laying around, but because they weren’t able to obligate the money fast enough. These are the funds being used to open these 38 refuges. Taking these funds and directing them to other purposes violates the intent of Congress and disrupts the orderly planning and implementation of priority projects. Further, these funds were likely to be used for previously planned projects which will now be terminated or remain unfinished such as an exhibit for a Visitor Center.
We ultimately call upon Congress to pass, and the President to sign, an appropriations bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2019 for the Department of the Interior and open up our ENTIRE National Wildlife Refuge System for the American people. Until that time, we urge the President to close units of the National Wildlife Refug...until sufficient funding is available to ensure appropriate staffing levels to prevent irreparable harm to our nation’s conservation heritage.