The Changing Sociology of the Chesapeake Bay

As the blue crab fishery dwindles, it seems sadly inevitable that the numbers of watermen will do the same. Recently, an influx of newcomers without the strong ties to the water which characterize so many of the native Chesapeake bay communities has raised the question of how the identity of the region will change over time. New businesses, highways, housing developments, and occupations are flooding the area; it seems that the quiet fishing communities of old is rapidly becoming extinct. In Calvert County, many new residents have expressed little interest in the ecosystem and history of the Bay and its fisheries; most are attracted to the good schools and low crime rates of the area. Some comment on the isolation they feel, noting the five-acre zoning ordinances as making it more difficult to meet people. "Down here you really have to make an effort to get out and meet people by going to the churches or getting involved in your community association. All these things take time, and people who work and have children don't really have time," said one new resident. What used to come naturally - the sense of community that stemmed from the daily contact of watermen in their common occupations - now appears to require a concerted effort to establish. The "bottom up" effect of a fishing community's arising out of the presence of the water and its subsequent attraction of those who exploit that resource seems to be increasingly replaced by the "top down" effect of people relocating to a rural setting for other reasons, such as their corporations' transferring them there. The "bottom up" phenomenon would logically encourage a stronger sense of community identity based on the resource from which everyone in the community makes their livings than would the "top down" effect (Greer and Leffler 1996).

In light of this recent arrival of so many people without a strong sense of identification with the water, the decline of the blue crab fishery seems even more ominous in its implications for the survival of the watermen and the traditional flavor of the communities they inhabit. Even if the blue crab population were to experience a resurgence, would the watermen be able to do the same? Sustaining a fishery is clearly a step in the right direction of maintaining the identity of a community composed of watermen, but in the Chesapeake Bay area, it is also clear that the resource itself does not exist in a vacuum. Outside influences may be just as important in determining the fate of the fishing communities as the resource - in this case, blue crabs - upon which their occupants rely.

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