The health of the Chesapeake Bay is important to watermen.
Their caring for the Bay should not preclude their right to make a decent living. For them a healthy Bay is far less abstract than it is to most people who care for the Bay. Their livelihoods depend directly on a healthy Bay.
Their empirical experience makes them the canaries in the coal mine. How many foundation and association members can say that? How many scientists, biologists, ecologists and environmentalists can say that their day-to-day livelihoods actually depend on a healthy Bay?
Watermen and their families cannot count on a steady pay check every week, or have complete health coverage or retirement plans. Times can be hard because of the vagaries of natural resources.
Still, they have to be out there every day. I was told years ago by a waterman, “If you aren’t out there every day you won’t make it.”
Sometimes it is a barely cost-effective effort. Most would prefer steady to boom and thin times.
Those who are not so invested won’t understand and are quick to accept any explanation from foundations and associations as to why there are days when times are hard. It is not widely understood how the health of the Bay can advantageously or adversely affect the lives of watermen.
Few “activists” are interested in this interchange between resource, harvester and markets. Why should they? They make donations and walk away trusting foundations and associations to act responsibly? I do not know one person who encourages walking away from caring about the Bay.
Yet that is what slacktivists do. It is time for members to demand accountability and respect from their foundations and associations. Members should educate themselves from sources outside of their siloed comfort zones.
Watermen cannot afford the altruism-is-for-others that salaried and retirees can. Most work within catch limits, obeying boundaries like clam lines, subaquatic vegetation lines and sanctuary lines. They look to the future by planting oyster seed on shell in public oyster bottom, at their own expense.
Years ago, the state confiscated much of the Bay’s oyster bottom, creating the now sacrosanct mega-sanctuaries. Recently, watermen were offering to invest in part of an ignored sanctuary, something that no one else had offered to do, in exchange to harvest on a limited controlled basis. The result would be a combination of some harvest but also new oysters unharvested for the sanctuary. The sanctuary benefits, watermen and oysters would benefit. Unfortunately, scientists, environmentalists, riverkeepers and ecologists masquerading as policy directors raised such a ruckus in the legislature, that watermen and citizens who care were the losers.
I am sure no one thinks that adding one more oyster to the Bay waters is a bad idea. Yet when it came time to put the proposal into action many people shied away from it for only one reason. Watermen could harvest some of the planted oysters on a rotational basis and then plant again. It is as if people who are not immediately invested in the Bay don’t want watermen improving their lives or enhancing the water quality in the areas by implementing such co-operative plans.
There is a place for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ShoreRivers, Coastal Conservation Association, the Chesapeake Bay Program, educators, and ecologists. But it is not using politics to stand on the necks of watermen with falsehoods, or abusing memberships dues, grants, both state and federal.
Getting politics out of the Bay and reinvigorating the science, biology and other disciplines should be at the top of the list for all the stakeholders. Then good solid reasonable solutions can be created.
Marc Castelli writes from Chestertown. “The View From the Washboards” aims to offer a waterman’s opinion on today’s issues.