eastern shore watermen rally in support of senate bill 342.
maryland watermen :: annapolis, md.
my first encounter with the watermen of the eastern shore was far more exciting than i could have imagined. last week, the night before i was scheduled to go oystering with one of the work boats, bunky chance – president of the talbot county watermen’s association – called to tell me that due to impending oyster legislation a group of watermen were heading instead to the state capital in support of senate bill 342. sb342 (natural resources :: oysters :: hearing for poaching and designation of sanctuaries) had just passed unanimously in the senate 44 – 0. the bill would establish more severe penalties for oyster poachers along with an amendment from sen. richard colburn to delay the designation of new oyster sanctuaries by the department of natural resources (DNR) – a compromise to the current plan which would give DNR more time to draw new lines and (more importantly) provide the watermen with another harvest season.
nearly 100 maryland watermen converged in downtown annapolis that wednesday morning, april 7th, filling the harbor with more workboats than the city has seen in decades. from the waterfront the men marched to the state building with signs that spoke silently to their point – we are watermen. we love our job. we love the bay. they came to the capital – leaving their boats and a day’s pay – to show solidarity and support for a bill that would give them a voice in the grand debate over oyster regulations. for the last few months they’ve watched as legislators dictate their future and taints their reputation among the greater community. it’s disheartening and unjust that these watermen who used to be looked at with great respect are being pegged as resource exploiters, when it is simply not true.
one of my main motivations behind coming to st michael’s was to learn about the heritage and culture of the bay’s watermen community. the watermen of the eastern shore, and talbot county in particular, have my utmost respect and admiration for the honest, hard work that they do everyday on the waters of the chesapeake bay. i couldn’t imagine anything more fascinating than documenting a way of life that has been preserved and executed with passion and respect for decades and among countless generations. oystering and crabbing on the chesapeake is more than just a job for these men, it’s part of their soul. everything they know they learned from the generation before them, and they pass that knowledge on to their sons. this is a fiercely independent, proud, and concerned group, that wants nothing more than to see this way of life preserved.
the problems of the chesapeake bay are numerous, and the causes are varied and highly disputed. once teeming with marine life, the high levels of pollution, disease among the oysters, variation in water salinity, and poaching have led to decreased harvests across the board. as scientists continue to research solutions and the DNR imposes regulations, the situation has gone from bad to worse, and no one has suffered more than the watermen.
for the next few weeks i will be working with the talbot county watermen’s association to learn about the current state of the industry and their plight over the last few years. as a personal project, i want to document the many facets of life in this community and educate myself as much as possible on the history and waters of the bay. i aim to champion the watermen who respect and care for the bay and challenge the widespread propaganda by the DNR and other “well-intentioned” organizations that manipulate data to promote an agenda which has clearly served no one.
seated in the environmental matters committee courtroom, i was proud to be among the group of slightly charged watermen – dressed in jeans and tanned from the sun, they were in stark contrast to the politicians in dark suits and DNR officers in starched uniforms. the watermen’s presence was profound, and my respect grew for this group of men who were compelled to attend this non-testimony hearing. the speaker briefly acknowledged their attendance, and the proceedings began. i listened closely that afternoon, and was appalled by the dismissive attitude of the house on the bill, save for a few honorable delegates. arguing against the amendment, sen. brian frosh dismissed the watermen, citing that all hunter/gatherer societies are facing extinction and are “not the way of the future.” in my opinion, anyone that so easily disregards the way of life of an entire culture and spurns their struggle is incredibly ignorant and close minded.
it has been my privilege to travel the world witnessing varied and magnificent ways of life – ancient cultures minimally disturbed by modern society. at present, i am honored to have the opportunity to witness such culture in my own country – to document and learn from the eastern shore watermen. for me there is nothing more important and relevant to be photographing right now than this. i am incredibly excited, and i only hope that i am not, as many have warned, witnessing the true end of an era.
the maryland state seal features a farmer and a waterman.
* * * * *
…more from my on-going watermen project…
choptank to the railway :: neavitt to tilghman aboard the dreamer.
oyster recovery partnership :: ORP project – le compte bay, choptank river.
environmental matters committee :: SB 342 :: eastern shore watermen rally in support of senate bill 342.