Watermen Heritage Tours

The first decade of the twenty-first century saw several years with the lowest blue crab populations and harvest levels ever recorded. By 2008, fishery managers worried they might witness the crash of the blue crab stock, the most valuable and most fished of all the East Coast’s fisheries. In response to the numbers, new, tight restrictions were placed on the fishery in hopes the population would grow. In addition, Congress declared a fishery disaster, making $15 million available for restoration measures, and to support the fishermen.

A portion of that money went to an innovative training program, The Waterman’s Heritage Tourism Training Program, developed by the Chesapeake Conservancy, in partnership with the Maryland Watermen’s Association, the Coastal Heritage Alliance, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

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Since its inception in June of 2010, the training program has held sessions across Maryland, reaching watermen from Somerset, Dorchester, Talbot, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles Counties. Over 80 watermen have completed the 5-day course and received a heritage tour guide certificate from the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

The training isn’t meant to take the watermen off the water, but to give them skills they can use to supplement their incomes with a related new business. The program was designed to instruct watermen and family members in topics including: thematic tour development, community based tourism, historic and cultural community asset identification, storytelling and heritage interpretation, maritime history, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, vessel survey, business plan development, and potential funding sources.

As Mike Vlahovich, Founding Director of the Coastal Heritage Alliance, said, “we have done more than just train tour guides; rather, we have launched a new generation of ambassadors representing some of the best cultural traditions that Maryland has to offer.”

The program’s website supports the graduates of that program with a marketing outlet. There you can find on the water and on land tours that will inform you about the life of the waterman, their communities, and the Chesapeake’s history.

In January 2013, this program received the Maryland Historical Trust’s 2013 Maryland Preservation Partnership Award, one of the highest honors for historic preservation, heritage education, and community development projects in the State. The Maryland Historical Trust, in making their award, wrote, “Thanks to the vision and dedication of the program’s consortium of sponsoring partners, this effort far exceeds any prior initiative to incorporate Maryland watermen in the establishment of a community-based approach to cultural heritage preservation.”

In 2012, Preservation Maryland listed the watermen as an endangered Maryland icon, highlighting the need for programs such as the WHTTP. The Chesapeake Conservancy is proud to be helping the watermen maintain and share their livelihoods with Chesapeake Bay community.

Visit the Watermen Heritage Tourism Training Program website to see how you can learn from thewatermen!