NPR Story: Watermen on the Chesapeake Bay

I am an avid NPR listener, and was thrilled when, tuned into my local WAMU station, I heard this story about waterman* on the Chesapeake Bay:

“Watermen Find Bliss On The Bay Despite Challenges”
By: Jonathan Wilson // May 24, 2013

Robert T. Brown (right) hauls his pound net out of the water with the help of his crew. photo courtesy of Jonathan Wilson

Robert T. Brown (right) hauls his pound net out of the water with the help of his crew. — photo courtesy of Jonathan Wilson —

Robert T. Brown eases his 42-foot, bay-built fishing boat away from his property along St. Patrick’s Creek in St. Mary’s County…
“It’s tough. It’s a hard way — if you’re not really raised on the water — and get it really in your blood,” he says. “There’s not really nobody else going into it.”

Brown says being a waterman is even tougher than it was when he got started on his own, about 40 years ago. But looking for another line of work just isn’t an option.

See the rest of the story and LISTEN to it here.

My Reflections

Listening to the story on the radio, a few things really stood out to me – specifically Mr. Brown’s quote, “It’s tough. It’s a hard way — if you’re not really raised on the water — and get it really in your blood.”

It is definitely a way of life that people feel is in their blood. It is such an interesting and vivid culture around the life of watermen*, and so intrinsic to the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

The community around the often current hardship of making a living off of the unique ecosystem that is the Bay – rock fish, oysters, crabs – seafood that is so much a part of the larger culture of the area.

chincoteague and chesapeake bay oysters

chincoteague and chesapeake bay oysters

The fact that the watermen culture requires a very intimate knowledge of the nature and ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay: the tides, the water composition, the seasons, the weather patterns, the migration and reproduction schedules of the animals they catch, and knowing where the best place to catch. A perfect example is when Mr. Brown described in the NPR story the behavior of the fish and how he used their natural instincts of avoiding the shore to coax them into his net.This is one of the things I admire most about watermen: their intimate knowledge and respect for the earth.

Early 1980s photo of the Razor when it was being leased and operated as a hand-tonger by Peter Davidson (he's on the right). - not sure who took the photograph

Early 1980s photo of the Razor when it was being leased and operated as a hand-tonger by Peter Davidson (he’s on the right). – not sure who took the photograph

The entire industry around supporting the work on the water – such as building and repairing the boats, equipment (such as oyster tongs, fishing nets, crab pots, etc.), and then the purchasing and processing of the catch, such as the old McNasby’s Oyster Packing Company. Obviously, this is important to me, because my family repaired and built watermen’s work-boats, then as time went on, also sailboats, at the old Willard & Sons’ Boatyard on Mill Creek.

EmaBee's grandfather John working on the Hoopers Island duck-tail boat on the railway in about 1977 with the Razor in the background.

EmaBee’s grandfather John working on the Hoopers Island duck-tail boat on the railway in about 1977 with the Razor in the background.

There is also the current issue of how the watermen balance the preservation of their way of life and preserving the environment. I think often, the watermen understand the importance of tight regulations in order to preserve the populations for the future, like Mr. Brown. But other watermen see the regulations as an impediment to business.

Unfortunately, the way of life for watermen is slowly disappearing. It is important to try to preserve the history as much as possible so this unique way of life, and all of the knowledge is lost. Thankfully, there are some watermen still out there, like Mr. Brown, making a life out of this old tradition.

———————————————-

* When I use the term “watermen” I mean to include ALL people who make a living off of the water, not just men.

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3 responses to “NPR Story: Watermen on the Chesapeake Bay

  1. Pingback: The Wreck of the Old Island Belle | Excursions Into Imagination·

  2. Pingback: The Wreck of the Old Island Belle (Part 4) | Excursions Into Imagination·

  3. Pingback: Tootsie Rolls | EmaBee's Art·

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