Did you know that there’s a fish in the Chesapeake Bay that can walk on land and survive out of water for up to four days? It’s called the Northern Snakehead—and honestly, it’s a little bit of a nightmare (we’re talking teeth in the gills and no natural predators). Even more interesting? It’s often “archery caught,” meaning fishermen literally use a bow and arrow to sustainably catch it for human consumption.
These types of fun facts abound during Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Week, an annual programming event that aims to raise awareness of both the issues facing the Bay and its rich cultural heritage.
“We celebrate the Chesapeake Bay because it’s the largest estuary in North America and a very important economic engine for the state,” says Mike English, MPT’s Senior Executive Producer. “It’s a beautiful resource that has fallen on some hard times. MPT is trying to do its part in fostering discussion and action to get people aware of what’s happening and give them ideas on how to act and how to work toward restoring it.”
This year, English says, they’re hoping to engage viewers through one of the most appealing avenues out there: Food. As a special sneak peek, Bay Week will debut three episodes of the new national television series “Good Catch.” The concept of the series, producer Heidi Hanson explains, is for chefs who cook using seafood to go out on the water and give catching/harvesting a go—with a little help from the experts, of course.
One of the episodes, “Beautiful Blue Swimmers,” chronicles the journey of celebrated Charm City Chef Spike Gjerde as he is taken out crabbing by Tony Conrad of Conrad’s Crabs & Seafood Market in Parkville.
“Spike was like a kid in a candy shop out there,” says Hanson. “He put on his coveralls and got in on the action, sorting and pulling crabs. At one point, he was like ‘I know I’m slowing you guys down, but I just can’t stop!’”
The show demonstrates the mutual respect between watermen and chefs, culminating in the creation of a dish that combines the fresh catch from the waterman and the creative cooking skills of the chef. The two other episodes that will debut during Bay Week feature White Stone Oysters, harvested from a wide, rough part of the Bay and prepared by DC chef Jeremiah Langley, and the aforementioned Snakehead, caught by bow and arrow by “Top Chef” alumna Jenn Carroll.
Another food-centric highlight is the continuation of MPT’s “Eatin’” series. On the heels of previous years’ programs including “Eatin’ Oysters: Chesapeake Style!” and “Eatin’ Crabcakes: The Best I Ever Had,” the network will premiere their latest, “Eatin’ the Chesapeake: The Five Feasts.”
As the name suggests, “The Five Feasts” will showcase five aspects of the Chesapeake Bay culinary tradition: German Sour Beef and Dumplings, Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham (recently featured in the New York Times), a Smith Island Seafood Feast, Eastern Shore Fried Chicken and a Historic Feast featuring “fine dining from Colonial times.” (Both “Good Catch” and “The Five Feasts” will eventually be accompanied by a cookbook so that lovers of the Bay and beyond can recreate the televised dishes at home.)
If you come for the food, stay for the Bay. Bay Week will feature a total of 20.5 hours of Chesapeake-centric programming, including the annual Chesapeake Bay Summit, which brings together the brightest environmental minds to discuss the state of the Bay, and “Healing Baltimore’s Harbor: A Pipe Dream?”, a documentary created in partnership with American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking.
“The idea behind a lot of these shows is to educate people and make them aware of this wonderful resource and its problems,” English says. “But we want to do shows every year that just celebrate the Bay and give people a sense of its history and culture. We don’t only broadcast these programs over our network—we deliver them nationwide. As Marylanders, we kind of overlook it, but it’s a popular place. We’ve found a lot of people want to hear about it.”
Tune into Bay Week April 22-28 on MPT. For a full list of programming, check out the schedule here.