Crabbing with Fred Dockery

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Crabbing with Fred Dockery

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

After bidding the Seans and their pigs goodbye, we followed Matt and Ted out to a dock on the Stono River. That's where we met up with Fred Dockery, a local crab fisherman who offered to take us out for a couple of hours while he pulled pots. The blue crab is a staple of the coastal diet, which makes crab fishing a traditional industry in these parts. Matt and Ted thought that one of the best ways to experience Charleston's food culture was to see a local waterman at work.

I grew up pulling hands lines for crabs on Barnegat Bay, so this was a return to familiar territory for me. As a commercial fisherman, Fred Dockery is out on the water almost every day, year round, catching crabs which he sells by the bushel to a mix of local families, distributors, and restaurants. His boat is small, just big enough to carry four or five people (and several baskets of crabs) and perfect for maneuvering from buoy to buoy as he checks his pots.

The process is straightforward: hoist the trap, dump the crabs out, toss the live ones into a bushel basket and the dead ones back into the water, bait the trap, push it into the water, move on, and repeat.

Dockery is licensed to set 400 pots at a time, but is sensitive enough to conservation and good stewardship of these waters to tailor the number of traps he sets to the market's demand. He is currently running 300 of them scattered throughout local waterways, and on any given day he catches only what he knows that he can sell.