What’s it like to make a living going out in a boat to catch crabs on a daily basis? For waterman Moose Labo, it’s a labor of love. He started with his Dad when he was six or seven years old. He couldn’t do much at the time, but by the time he was seventeen or eighteen, he was running his own boat and has been crabbing for over twenty years since then.
During crab season, which starts April 1st each year, his day starts at 5:00 AM and ends around 2:00 PM, six days a week. When he first started crabbing, he had 200-300 crab pots. Now he has 900 that he has set out into the Bay, and each day he, and his two nephews Kris and Kam, and sometimes his Dad, go out to pull up the pots and bring in the catch for the day.
Moose said he loves being on the water and being his own boss. And, he added with a smile, “I really love it when I’m makin’ money.” “Makin’ money” can be tricky for watermen. It’s hard to know what to expect, and there is a great deal of risk involved for their investment in their boat, pots, and fuel. Sometimes they catch a lot of crabs and find that the price has dropped because crabs are so plentiful that they don’t have much left after they cover their costs. Or crabs can be scarce, and they get a good price for the few crabs they catch, but not enough to make it profitable. “That’s the hardest part,” Moose said. “You put all the money you saved the year before into getting ready to crab again, not knowing if you’re going to make it back.” But then there are times when things align so that the catch is abundant and the price is good. Those are the times Moose enjoys the most!
Starting out at daybreak, Moose also enjoys watching the sun come up from his boat. “There’s some beautiful sights out there. You never know what you’re going to see. Some mornings, eagles swoop down and pick bait out of the water. It’s amazing to watch,” he said.
Watermen also find some unexpected “treasures” in their crab pots besides crabs. “The other day we were clear off shore, and we found a golf ball in a pot. Sometimes we find balloons. When I was young, I pulled up a pot, and it had the ugliest creature I’ve ever seen in it. I liked to jump overboard! To me, it looked like a Chinese eel. I still get scared when I think about it,” he said with a grin.
Like other watermen, Moose has had his share of scares out there besides the “Chinese eel.” His biggest scare was when he almost sank his boat when a pot got caught in the wheel. The boat started taking in water, and although he managed to get the pot out, by then he had taken in a lot of water and “liked to lost ‘er.” The one thing that saved him was the false floor in the boat which was full of air. That kept him afloat until he could bail the water out. He was out on the water by himself with no cell phone at that time, so the situation could have been tragic. As he said, “I was young and dumb and didn’t care then. I’ve got more respect for the water now.”
When he’s not getting pots ready for crabbing season or busy with life as a waterman, he works at the local Salvation Army Youth Club in Crisfield, overseeing programs and mentoring the kids. He said he loves it there too because he really enjoys working with young people. It’s a good balance for him. Part of his life is out on the water making a living and part is on land making a difference. Either way, when it comes to Moose Labo, life is good.
Story and photos by Charlotte Scott