This is going to be a fairly picture heavy post. On a technical note, all of the pre dawn images, and most of the early morning ones were shot at an amazingly high ISO of 12,800. No flash, just the boat’s work lights.
Peter and I got to the dock at 4.00 AM to meet Robby Wilson who runs a pound net operation not far from Tilghman’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
We were on a scow that had been converted from an old houseboat, and his 2 crew were on a smaller skiff. We motored out of Tilghman for about 40 minutes and got to the first of 4 of his nets before 5.00 AM.
The two guys in the skiff had arrived some minutes before us, and were already hauling up the “pound”.
I asked several people where the term pound net comes from and there seems to be no consensus. It might come from the early American idea of a collection point for animals. The FAO has a pretty good description here.
The two boats work together to roll up the pound and then scoop the fish into the scow with the help of a winch.
The primary species Robby is fishing for is alewife. Many different fishes are caught in the nets, so the crew’s job is to cull most of the others, of which rockfish (striped bass) are the commonest. Some catfish and flounder are kept to sell as food fish. The alewife are sold mainly as bait for crabbers. After the first of June, the season for rockfish opens, and he is allowed to sell those.
It is wet, strenuous, and demanding work. It was unusually calm and clear yesterday, but the boat was still rocking, and water and fish scales were flying everywhere. After the cull, the crew would hop in the skiff and motor to the next set of nets.
The culling goes on until the pound is empty and then the crew moves on to the next location.
The process is repeated for each of the four sites. Travel time between them us usually less than a half hour.
Below is a good shot of system. Robby and the crew usually are out putting the stakes into the bottom around the first of March. They fell the trees and sharpen them in the off season. The depth of the water is anywhere between 7 and 15 feet.
Robby’s dad Clifford “Big Daddy” Wilson came out to help out. He is also a waterman; a few years ago Peter and I went out on his crab boat.
On the way back to the dock, the fish are shoveled into plastic baskets so they can be off-loaded into one of Robby’s trucks to be taken to Cambridge, MD to be sold.
They were nice enough to stop for a minute for a photo, but other wise they are constantly in motion.
The boats were back at the dock around 8.00 AM.
It’s about an hour to unload into the truck, and then the scow is cleaned up and made ready for the next day. It is pretty much a seven day a week job as the nets fill up pretty fast.
An amazing day. We are very fortunate to hang around with these guys and document their work. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating.
Yesterday we were out on a crab boat with Roy and Colleen Sadler. We were on the dock by 4.30 AM, and on the Bay putting out lines by 5.oo. It is still early in the season, and when Roy started pulling up the lines, there wasn’t much action.
The sun was just coming up over the horizon, so the boat was still using the onboard lights. The technique is to attach small packets of razor clams to a line about every 10 or 15 feet. Roy and Colleen would drop the line, circle around and hope the crabs would chow down. The line would be strung over a roller, and any attached crabs would drop into the net Roy is holding above.
The crabs have to be over a certain size to be kept (I think it’s between 4 and 5 inches), or they get tossed back into the bay. Since the sun hadn’t come up, they were mostly inactive. But as the sun rose higher, more and more took the bait.
You can see the little orange packets of razor clams coming up over the roller.
Roy and Colleen are amazing people. Roy has been working on the water his whole life, and Colleen works in a bank on the island during the week. She is usually on the boat at weekends helping out. The economics of making a living off the bay have changed so much over the years; Roy has said it would be very difficult to keep his business going without her income. A lot of what we are learning on this leg of the project has to do with the stifling regulations that the State of Maryland is forcing on the watermen (and women), and the ongoing change to the bay’s ecosystem which makes harvesting seafood such a challenge.
We are shooting at a house on a part of the island called Bar Neck. This is the view out the back window. The platform in the water usually has ospreys nesting on it. Mary Kellogg says that the male usually shows up around St Patrick’s Day to establish territorial rights, and the female follows shortly thereafter.
We are in the interview stage of the second Tilghman’s Island project. The people down here are so warm and welcoming, and it is cool to hear them talk about their lives living and working on the Bay. Since I was delayed in coming down here by the weather, Peter spent the day on Wednesday setting up the location. As usual, he did an incredible job getting it to look just right. I am so used to shooting people with available light that when I shoot with his set-up, it feels a bit like cheating.