Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

To find out more about the connections between people and special places, we sat down with Chesapeake Bay watershed residents Joe Scrivener, Tommy Zinn, Craig Kelly and Phil Watson to talk about life along the bay.


A second-generation waterman from Drayden, Md., Scrivener makes his living as a charter captain and owns a seafood wholesale company with his son. Previously, he has worked as a full-time fisherman, oysterman and crabber.


As a fourth-generation Maryland native born and raised in Baden, Watson has been a lifelong steward of the watershed. Originally from a family of farmers and watermen, he now spends much of his time crabbing and fishing on the middle Patuxent River.


Zinn is full-time commercial crabber employed as a trotliner on the lower Patuxent River. He was born into a family of working watermen in Lusby, Md., and has served as the president of the Calvert County Watermen's Association for the last eight years.


Kelly settled in Point Lookout, Md., in the '40s, where he discovered and developed his love for the water business. For the last 40 years, Kelly has worked as a commercial waterman crabbing and oystering along the lower Potomac and Chesapeake Bay.


Sanctuary Watch (SW): Did your family work the water when you were growing up?

Craig Kelly (CK): No, but I grew up around it. I was born and raised at Point Lookout, before the state even thought of having a state park down there. Y'know, being a seven- or eight-year-old kid, catching crabs and oysters and fish, I mean that's exciting as hell!

SW: How did you get hooked on the water?

CK: I was working with [a friend], and he'd inherited fish nets from his dad, so I was helping him, you see... we said, "Let's put some crab pots out." Caught a few crabs, sold them, next thing you know we was oysterin'. Then I found a girlfriend and we kinda parted ways, but I just picked up where we left off, and I've been making a living out of it ever since.

Phil Watson (PW): I grew up on a farm, my dad was a farmer and he was also a waterman, and a lot of the time he would fish gill nets. I'd go down with him and I'd sit in the back of that boat and damn near freeze to death. He'd never seem to get cold! I didn't find out until later on in the years when I started working the nets that when you're active you don't get cold!

PW: We've had a lot of hours on the water, fortunately, and to grow up in the area that I grew up in and have access to the river and the bay and marshland - I've had a good life.


SW: What makes the bay special?

Joe Scrivener (JS): There's so many things here, it's not just crabs and fish and oysters. It's the daggone ducks swimming up and down this creek here, the seagulls, the bald eagles we see around here all the time.

CK: The mama duck with the babies...

JS: ...the eggs that my grandson found that the duck just laid down there underneath the truck.

Tommy Zinn (TZ): Sunrises, sunsets...

JS: When [charter passengers] ride out there with us to go fishing in the morning, and they get to see that sun come up over that water, that's the only thing they can think of when they get home, seeing that sunrise, how we caught a fish this long...

TZ: At the Solomon's boardwalk, every night during the summer there's probably 20 people taking pictures of the sunset. Doesn't cost them a nickel. Don't have to be rich just to come down and see some of the sights.

JS: Just take a picture right here, looking down this creek out there to the river.

PW: You can't do any better than this. [laughs]


SW: What kind of changes have you seen in the Chesapeake over the years?

PW: I've seen so many changes. I'm 82 years old, and I've lived here all my life. One of the biggest changes in the latter years is the marshes where I live [along the Patuxent River] are dying. I would safely say we're losing at least two, maybe three feet of marsh a year. In 50 years, a lot of places where we have marsh now there's going to be all water.

TZ: Back in the day, guys from southern Maryland used to go to the Eastern Shore and tong over there during the good weather up till Christmas because it was more productive. Now, the average age of watermen is late 50's, and they don't want to travel like they used to. It's more competitive trying to work an area where there used to be oysters everywhere.

SW: With all the changes you've seen, do you think the Chesapeake is losing a lot of what makes it special?

JS: I don't think anyone would ever lose their love for this body of water. Craig, if he quit crabbing tomorrow, he would still be out there doing something... But to lose it so you can't put your foot in the water or your grandchildren can't go in there or even be close to it because [they might get sick], that's heartbreaking just to think about.

SW: You must feel protective of this place, having spent so much of your lives here.

JS: It just makes you mad, because you love it so much. But what can one person do? Unfortunately, there's how many people on the bay between here and the Susquehanna? It's not just the five of us sitting at this table. Making Connections,


SW: Do you think bringing people out on the water will give them a greater appreciation for what makes it special?

TZ: You try to encourage people to come down and have a positive experience, soak their feet in the bay, walk down the bay shore and pick up some shells, get them to interact or connect with that resource, and maybe that can draw an appreciation for it like we do.

JS: You need to have some positive talk about the bay, how valuable it is to us, how pretty it is - the birds and everything else around here.

TZ: They would see that it's just as important as Mount Rushmore, or some of them landmarks... That's our national monument right here, the bay, and we want to preserve it, and we want them to take care of it along with us.

PW: Absolutely.

SW: When you have a bunch of people that care very deeply about someplace, that's infectious, and that can help others understand.

PW: Of course, no doubt about it.

JS: And that's probably what we need more of here, too.

TZ: Joe probably spends half his time taking fishing parties out, telling them the right thing to do, and why he might do something a certain way, and I hope some of it sinks into those people.

TZ: I think maybe they will connect the dots and say, "Hey, if we don't start cleaning up our act this isn't going to get any better, it's going to get worse. We're not going to have any more watermen, they're all going to be tour guides! They're all going to be in a museum."


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