Watermen On Strike At Peak Of Oyster Season

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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On the bay something extraordinary is happening. Watermen are staying home, even though it is the peak of the oyster season.

Alex DeMetrick
reports the large protest is a first.

Instead of harvesting oysters ahead of the holidays, watermen are making a stand on shore, from the bay bridge to Smith Island.

“The whole bay, bay wide quit and come home,” said waterman Brent Haddaway. “Ain’t nobody work since.

“There’s “no money coming in,” said Lisa Gowe, Talbot Watermen’s Association. “It hurts all the way around, with everybody staying home, but we really have to stick together on this.”

The issue is what buyers are paying for oysters. Last week, it was $40 a bushel.

“As of Monday, they cut them to $35 with the thought they were going to $30 by the middle of the week,” Haddaway said. “So if we get to $30, we can’t afford to work.”

While oysters in a restaurant can cost $1-2 each, watermen say what they make isn’t enough to run a boat and make a profit—this at a time of year when oysters traditionally bring their best price.

“Between Thanksgiving and New Years is the best time, and then after the holidays it slows down,” Gowe said.
The price would then drop even more. 

This work stop isn’t just unusual. It’s a first.

“I would say 98 percent of the watermen stayed home,” Haddaway said. “That’s the first time I ever seen them do that in my life. All of them quit”

And there’s no guarantee staying home will force prices up.

“Everybody’s sticking together as one voice,” Gowe said. “That’s an amazing thing for these guys.”

Along with lower prices, watermen say they are also feeling the impact of new Maryland regulations, which place 5,000 acres of oystering rounds into protected sanctuaries.  

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