What is in this article?:
- Local seafood returns to Baltimore area
- Working with crab
Sexton grew up fishing and crabbing and has spent the past 26 years working for Phillips Seafood.
Bill Sexton grew up on the water. A native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, his maternal grandfather was a “water man,” making his living from fishing, tug boating and anything else that kept him on the Chesapeake Bay.
“That’s really where I got my background,” said Sexton, who grew up fishing and crabbing and has spent the past 26 years working for Phillips Seafood.
Last year he was appointed executiveof the company’s flagship restaurant on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
He recently discussed seafood trends and crabbing with Nation’s Restaurant News.
What seafood trends are you seeing in Baltimore?
I think the biggest trend is ‘back to the bay.’ Both the state and a lot of advocates have pushed to clean the [Chesapeake] Bay so much that the seafood is coming back. The first big thing was the rockfish, which started coming back after they put a moratorium on commercial fishing. Then the crabs started to come back, and now the oysters.
For years people have lamented overfishing and over-crabbing in the Chesapeake. Are you saying the crabs are back?
The minute I say that, then we’re going to have a bad year. If a storm comes in or the weather’s too hot, the crabs move upriver or downriver. They’re really controlled by what goes on in the environment. Sometimes we’ll have great weather, and they’ll move into the pots, and then a lot more crabs are caught.
Last year was great. We had no problem getting really good-sized crabs. But sometimes a bad year leads to a good year, because you know the crabs are there. It’s a question of whether you’re in the right spot to get them.
For a long time it was so bad that all the crabs were being brought up from the South. But last year we opened a crab deck at the restaurant in Baltimore where large groups can go out and enjoy crab together, and it’s a big deal to sit on the deck and have crabs that come from Maryland.
Do you do a lot of fishing?
I’m in the restaurant business. When I have some vacation time I do it, but that’s about all the time I have anymore.
One nice thing about this family [Phillips] is we get to work with the local fishermen here. Fishing goes back so far that the business is all integrated here. When we opened up the crab deck, we were right away able to get what we needed. We already had the relationships going in.
We also serve a lot of oysters here, and [chief executive] Steve [Phillips] did a lot for the reinstituting of oysters in the Bay [by spearheading projects to re-seed oyster beds].
Now we serve six to seven different oysters. It seems like every one of the rivers has a different flavored oyster. Usually in the rivers you get a sweeter oyster, and when you get farther in the bay it’s a saltier oyster. The nice thing about real oyster eaters is they all have an opinion about what they think is best.
Those oysters are cultivated, right?
Almost everything that’s sold commercially is not considered a wild oyster. It’s not like the old days when they’d send the boats out and dredge for the oysters. They plan them, they cultivate them and then after 18 months or two years they harvest them. It’s become a science about how they handle everything.
It’s interesting, the guys who are doing it. It’s not like their families were doing it. They just wanted to do something unusual and all of a sudden they’re oystering.