Johnsons work hard to bring in seafood

Published 11:36 pm Friday, February 17, 2012

I had my second glimpse of the amazing work that Suffolk watermen do when I went for a brief visit to Johnson and Sons Seafood on Thursday.

I was doing a story for the newspaper about the incredible oyster harvest that Virginia’s watermen are seeing this year. Officials estimate the 2012 harvest could turn out to be the largest in 25 years.

My first experience with Robert and Ben Johnson began at 4 a.m. My editor, Res Spears, and I went out on the boat with Ben one morning in 2010 to observe how they bring in the crab harvest for a story in our Suffolk Living magazine.

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Considering that we were out there for more than eight hours, I would call that more of an extended initiation rather than just a glimpse. But it was fun, enlightening and, most of all, made for great photos.

It was interesting to see how crabbers do things very methodically — lift the crab pot, open the pot, dump the half-rotted bait, shake out the crabs, close the pot, put in new bait and dump it, all while on the way to the next pot.

My most recent visit, on the other hand, truly was just a glimpse into how they do things. This time, it was oyster season, and I only spent about half an hour there on the dock, rather than spending eight hours on the water.

After I sidled up to the dock and saw the pile of oysters on Ben’s boat, the Lisa Dawn, I wondered to myself how they were going to get the oysters off the boat and onto dry land.

I didn’t have to wonder long. Once again, everything was very methodical, and it was clear to see that both father and son have been doing this so long they likely could do it in their sleep.

Ben and his father shoveled the oysters into buckets, which were lifted onto the dock using a motorized rope-pulley system. An employee standing on the dock guided the bucket toward the truck, where another employee was waiting to dump the oysters into a wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full, he wheeled it to the front of the truck and dumped the oysters in a pile there, all while the next bucket was being lowered to the boat and filled with shoveled oysters.

It’s sobering for a lover of seafood like myself to realize how many people work so hard to bring us the delicious taste of crabs, oysters and other underwater goodies. I’m sure they wouldn’t want people to stop eating seafood, so I’m not advocating that. But the next time you crack open a crab or pry open an oyster’s shell, think of the Johnsons — and others all over the world doing similar work — and say a little prayer for them.