Repurposing watermen as tour guides to revitalize rural Chesapeake Bay towns

Watermen Tours is a project run by Chesapeake Environmental Communications. It trains watermen (fishermen) to use their existing knowledge and equipment to conduct on-water tours for the public.

To date, over 50 watermen have been trained in Virginia, and they are now taking the model into other regions. The program has helped revitalize some of the most economically disadvantaged, rural coastal towns in Virginia.

The program includes extensive marketing to encourage tourism in these small areas (which typically includes people spending a day or more, so hotels, dining out, etc.) without requiring any additional development.


Captain Forrest Dameron, a 4th-generation Chesapeake Bay waterman

For centuries, watermen have worked the creeks and rivers of tidewater Virginia, bringing the best the Chesapeake Bay region has to offer to markets nationwide.

Most watermen are now struggling economically, due to the drastically-reduced crab, shellfish, and shellfish harvests.

Many environmental restoration efforts are underway on the bay, but they can’t be fully successful until pollution inputs are drastically reduced.

These mostly come from urban sewage (especially from Pennsylvania) and from agriculture (especially Maryland chicken factories).


Oyster tonging

At one point, Maryland passed laws  (under Democratic Governor Parris Glendening) to reduce the flow of chicken waste into the bay. However, agribusiness giants installed their own man in the governor’s office, Republican Robert Ehrlich, Jr.. He immediately reversed the laws, allowing effectively unlimited pollution.

This was an economic,cultural, and environmental disaster for the world’s largest (and formerly most productive) estuary, and its traditional way of life.

Now, through the Watermen’s Heritage Tour Program, visitors to Virginia can experience the time-honored history and traditions of our working watermen up-close and personal.

Chesapeake Environmental Communications (CEC) bridges the gap between science and understanding. They combine trained scientists, talented communicators, and creative professionals to deliver innovative programs and products. CEC has over 20 years of experience in coastal and ocean planning, strategic communication, team facilitation, and environmental education.

Note from Storm: I spoke with Captain J. C. Hudgins of Matthew, Virginia. He told me “It’s a good program. It’s helped me financially. The tours help folks understand where their oysters and crab cakes come from, and appreciate how much work goes into harvesting them.” Customers can get as hands-on as they wish, or just sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery. J.C. charges $300 for a 3 1/2 to 4-hour tour, and $200 for the 2 1/2-hour crab-potting tour. He says he bases the tour fees on the amount of money he would have made in that amount of time working the bay.

See Watermen Tours website & photo credits.

See Chesapeake Environmental Communications website.

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