COURT HOUSE - As the waters warm and the blue claw crab season kicks into high gear, 15-year-old Stephen Morley hopes he'll be able to use his magical ability to entice the crabs to his cages and jumpstart his "Crab Whisperer" business.
Morley, who lives in North Cape May, is a student at the Cape May County Special Services School where he is learning about vocational opportunities and stretching his entrepreneurial spirit. With the help of two teachers, Morley has taken a childhood summer activity to the next level, figuring out what's the best bait, how to build cages to trap them, and how to share his catch with neighbors if he's not in the kitchen cooking the crabs for his family.
"While many students play video games all summer, Stephen was spending summers with the crabbers, helping them, talking with them, and learning about the sport," said one of his teachers, Thomas Freck. "He's also a very handy guy when it comes to taking things apart and putting things together, so he's learned how to build cages along the way."
Morley said he was 6-years-old when he became interested in crabbing and started to look at tactics for trapping them. "I tried hot dogs, sausages, all kinds of things, but bunker seems to work the best," the teen said.
He's also learned how to build a crab trap and has 30-40 that he puts out off of the Shellbay Avenue Pier at Carol Nicoletta Park, which offers a scenic view of the backwaters of Jenkins Sound, including the salt marsh and forested edge.
"It takes me about two days to build a cage," Morley noted, and "over 14 hours to pull all my traps up to check them during the season." Each crab is measured to ensure it's the right size before being tossed into a bushel to take home.
While the crabbing season in New Jersey runs from March 15 until Nov. 30, and from April 16 until Dec. 14 in the Delaware Bay, the peak crabbing season runs from mid-June, topping in the month of August, and until early October when the water temperature exceeds 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once Morley gathers his bushel of crabs, he'll take them home and share them with neighbors or cook them for dinner with his dad. "My dad doesn't really like them that much," Morley added with a chuckle, "but he'll eat them when I cook them in garlic or with spaghetti."
With the help of Freck and Cape May County Technical High School teacher Hanna Toft, who provided Morley with the tools to build the cages, Morley launched his Crab Whisperer business with business cards, T-shirt and website. He hopes to eventually work on a boat, and sell his cages and catch.
"It's part of our vocational training," Freck said. "Stephen is innovative and has an entrepreneurial spirit. He started crabbing at 10 as a serious hobby and is now making it into a business. We're all really proud of him."
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