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Volume 5, Number 4
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Meet the Editor of The Blue Crab
The Man Behind the Book

By Jack Greer

Victor Kennedy sitting by a map of the Bay by Sandy Rodgers

Books that synthesize have always held a fascination for Professor Victor S. Kennedy. This year will see the release of The Blue Crab: Callinectes sapidus, edited by Kennedy and the late L. Eugene Cronin. Kennedy, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, also served as the lead editor of another major synthesis, The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica. Photo by Sandy Rodgers.

"The less this is about me, the better." So said Vic Kennedy as he sat down to be interviewed about the new book he has just edited, an extensive reference work on the blue crab. It's the most comprehensive text ever published on this — or any other — species of crab.

Those who know him well know that Kennedy does not care for grandstanding and doesn't have much patience for self-aggrandizement. A senior researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), he is the author of numerous journal articles and the editor of many proceedings, reports, and books, including The Blue Crab: Callinectes sapidus and an earlier, equally comprehensive reference work, The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica.

Sitting in the library at the UMCES Horn Point Laboratory, wearing blue jeans and a muted shirt, Kennedy projects a comfortable presence. At the same time his gray eyes, intent behind his glasses, hint at a certain tenacity. Vic Kennedy has a sharp dry wit, a capacious mind, and some forty years experience as a scientist and scholar.

Most of that career has been spent here at Horn Point, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and most of his research has focused on shellfish, including oysters and crabs. For seven years he directed the ambitious interdisciplinary project known as MEERC (Multiscale Experimental Ecosystem Research Center) — a study of how scale and size affect the function of both natural and experimental ecosystems. And from 2002-03, he also served as the Director of the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory, a federal-state partnership in Oxford, Maryland.Through all these positions he has managed to return to what he enjoys — biological research, scientific writing, and a level of scholarly synthesis that has brought him wide respect among his peers.

It's been a long journey since Kennedy first came to the Chesapeake Bay as a graduate student looking for a job.

The year was 1965, and well-known Bay scientist Joseph Mihursky was looking to hire some help. At that time Mihursky was a new faculty member at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Lab (CBL), studying the effects of thermal pollution from the Chalk Point power plant on the Patuxent River. He had a grant to gather baseline data, and he needed an up-and-coming researcher to help. Kennedy, a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island (URI), needed a place to finish his research on bivalve physiology.

And so Kennedy — who was born in Britain, raised in Canada, and received his graduate education in New England — found his way to CBL's remote Hallowing Point Field Station on the Patuxent River. At that time there was no bridge across the lower Patuxent linking Solomons to the growing population south of the river, and the development boom that would one day hit Calvert County was still far off in the future. Kennedy came to a quieter, more pristine Bay.

The Bay and its marine laboratories would eventually bring him back. After returning to URI to complete his dissertation, he accepted a three-semester visiting professorship at Chapman University in California. He then returned to CBL for a year before heading off in 1973 for two post-doctoral stints, one in New Zealand and one in Newfoundland. In 1976, he came back to the Chesapeake, to Horn Point, where he would make his home for the next thirty years and more. During this time he set out on another kind of journey, one tied to his love of books.

"I've always had an affinity for books," he says, "and for books that synthesize." As a graduate student Kennedy came across the 1964 landmark work, The American Oyster, by Paul Galtsoff, and he was immediately impressed by its scholarship. He also speaks fondly of Joel W. Hedgpeth's Treatise on Marine Ecology, a two-volume work — one on ecology and the other on paleoecology — published in the 1950s.

When Kennedy speaks about such works he gets excited — the way an English major might get excited about a poetry anthology. It's clear that books mean something to him. This passion is not simply for words but for synthetic thinking, and it repeatedly led him into the role of scholarly editor.

When scientists at CBL started the journal, Chesapeake Science — which became Estuaries, and now Estuaries and Coasts — Martin Wiley, the editor, asked Kennedy to become an associate editor. That was in 1976, the same year that Kennedy took his position at Horn Point.

He was also tapped to edit proceedings of the new Estuarine Research Federation (ERF). After each biennial national meeting he would lug back a satchel of papers, and then start sending them out for review. He took pride in getting good reviewers for each paper, and in getting out each proceedings within the year. He worked with a contractor to prepare the camera-ready copy, and viewed all this as part of the creative process.

In 1986, Kennedy succeeded Bob Kendall as editor of the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. He learned a lot from Kendall, who would cover submitted papers with comments and corrections. He saw how good editing can make language sharper, better.

Kennedy — whose mother was a teacher — has a keen eye for faulty grammar and shoddy spelling. Holding up a paper at arm's length, he adds, "I'm not bragging, but I can spot spelling errors at a glance."

He feels fortunate that he's worked with colleagues who appreciate the importance of editing, synthesis, and this brand of scholarship. Not every administrator does. Many think of editing as a "second-rate activity," he says.

"I've always looked at editing as a creative activity," says Kennedy.

He went on to make major contributions not only in peer-reviewed research articles but also in key works of synthesis. He authored Maryland's Oysters: Research and Management, in which he and his colleague Linda Breisch scrutinized the management of the state's oyster industry and key research needs. In a seminal paper, "Sixteen Decades of Political Management of the Oyster Fishery in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay," Kennedy and Breisch called attention to the warnings of scientists about the potential collapse of the oyster fishery and how over many years those warnings were largely ignored.

After the oyster, Kennedy turned his attention to a major species for which there existed no in-depth reference volume, the Bay's famed blue crab. The need was clear to Kennedy, who worries that most people don't even realize just how many crabs once flourished in the Bay. The urgency was also obvious to long-time researcher, L. Eugene Cronin, a well-regarded expert on blue crab biology. He was also the director of CBL when Kennedy first showed up as a graduate student back in the mid-1960s.

Cronin played an important role in Kennedy's early career and became a leading figure in the Chesapeake research community. (See L. Eugene Cronin: Scholar and Gentleman)

"Gene was a good guy," Kennedy says. "He paid attention to people at my level [graduate students]. He spoke to me. He welcomed me. He listened to talks that graduate students gave at professional meetings."

Kennedy would know Gene Cronin for some thirty years before Cronin's death in 1998. It was toward the end of that long relationship that the two men resolved to edit a book on the blue crab.

The book was years in the making. Before his death, Cronin helped set the book's shape and to garner funds for its publication. Kennedy and Cronin pulled together experts from across the continent to write chapters on evolution, anatomy, growth, reproduction, disease, and other aspects of the crab's biology, ecology, and management.

When Cronin died, Kennedy was on his own. Characteristically, he did what he does so well — not only did he co-author three chapters but he oversaw the rigorous review of each submission, editing, proofing, confirming permissions, examining graphics, more editing, indexing, and checking, checking, checking.

"Vic Kennedy deserves enormous credit for his patience, persistence, and skill in editing this book," says Anson "Tuck" Hines of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, author of one of the book's chapters and co-author of another.

No doubt preparing the 800-page book tested both his patience and his perseverance, but Kennedy's affinity for books has not faltered. He still believes in their value — even in the face of an explosion of electronic media and a new reliance on the Internet. He worries about the ephemeral nature of digital information. "I can go and find a copy of a 19th century report by the U. S. Commission on Fish and Fisheries," he says, "but if I have a disk that's fifteen years old, I have to search for a machine that can read it." He notes that the Library of Congress is also very concerned about this loss of digital information, information that may exist only on a disk somewhere.

Kennedy says he hopes that the new crab book, along with the oyster book he edited with Roger Newell and Albert Eble, will provide the same satisfaction for future scholars that he experienced starting out — the same intellectual jumping off place he found in works by Galtsoff and Hedgpeth.

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