It’s a Living
During the summer months, the island is buzzing with tourists and the “week-enders”, folks who have second homes and/or boats along the waters that surround this island. But in the winter, the island is returned to the year round residents, many of whom make their living from the rivers and bays. They are called “Watermen” (and hopefully a few “waterwomen” are now included).
The term ‘waterman’ is an old one, and is only used on the Thames River in England and on the Chesapeake Bay, and refers to those who make their living on the water. Nowadays, it is used in reference to those involved in the harvesting fish and shellfish, people whom other areas of the country would call commercial fishermen. Traditionally, however, the term was also used for boat workers, ferrymen, boat and ship pilots, and any others whose occupations took them on the water year round.
On this Christmas morning, all was quiet along the docks where the watermen keep their boats.
The local gas station (only one on the island) is the center for all matter of business and gossip throughout the day. This is the first time since I’ve moved here that this place was closed.
Oysters, crabs, herring, and numerous other fish large and small are harvested from the Chesapeake and the rivers that feed it. Below are two pictures of types of “tongers” which are used to harvest oysters. Oyster season is drawing to a close, at which time some of these watermen will switch to catching perch and bass.
I often hear the boats heading out early in the morning, chugging their way through the Knapp Narrows, out to the Choptank River and the Chesapeake Bayon. This time of the year, the fishing days are shorter and the catch less prolific, but unless there is a prolonged cold spell, some type of fishing goes on year round. It is a unique and challenging way to make a living, but most who do it would have it no other way. It is a livelihood that is often passed down from generation to generation. So the next time you have Maryland Blue Crabs or Oysters on the half shell – give a silent thank you to the watermen.