Jon Crispin's Notebook

Pound Netting on the Chesapeake

Posted in Animals, Fishing, Food, People, Water, Work by joncrispin on 10/05/2011

This is going to be a fairly picture heavy post.  On a technical note, all of the pre dawn images, and most of the early morning ones were shot at an amazingly high ISO of 12,800.  No flash, just the boat’s work lights.

Peter and I got to the dock at 4.00 AM to meet Robby Wilson who runs a pound net operation not far from Tilghman’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay.

We were on a scow that had been converted from an old houseboat, and his 2 crew were on a smaller skiff.  We motored out of Tilghman for about 40 minutes and got to the first of 4 of his nets before 5.00 AM.

The two guys in the skiff had arrived some minutes before us, and were already hauling up the “pound”.

I asked several people where the term pound net comes from and there seems to be no consensus.  It might come from the early American idea of a collection point for animals.  The FAO has a pretty good description here.

The two boats work together to roll up the pound and then scoop the fish into the scow with the help of a winch.

The primary species Robby is fishing for is alewife.  Many different fishes are caught in the nets, so the crew’s job is to cull most of the others, of which rockfish (striped bass) are the commonest.  Some catfish and flounder are kept to sell as food fish.  The alewife are sold mainly as bait for crabbers.  After the first of June, the season for rockfish opens, and he is allowed to sell those.

It is wet, strenuous, and demanding work.  It was unusually calm and clear yesterday, but the boat was still rocking, and water and fish scales were flying everywhere.  After the cull, the crew would hop in the skiff and motor to the next set of nets.

The culling goes on until the pound is empty and then the crew moves on to the next location.

The process is repeated for each of the four sites.  Travel time between them us usually less than a half hour.

Below is a good shot of system.  Robby and the crew usually are out putting the stakes into the bottom around the first of March. They fell the trees and sharpen them in the off season. The depth of the water is anywhere between 7 and 15 feet.

Robby’s dad Clifford “Big Daddy” Wilson came out to help out.  He is also a waterman; a few years ago Peter and I went out on his crab boat.

On the way back to the dock, the fish are shoveled into plastic baskets so they can be off-loaded into one of Robby’s trucks to be taken to Cambridge, MD to be sold.

They were nice enough to stop for a minute for a photo, but other wise they are constantly in motion.

The boats were back at the dock around 8.00 AM.

It’s about an hour to unload into the truck, and then the scow is cleaned up and made ready for the next day.  It is pretty much a seven day a week job as the nets fill up pretty fast.

An amazing day.  We are very fortunate to hang around with these guys and document their work.  They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating.

3 Responses

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  1. Brad said, on 11/05/2011 at 6:59 am

    Wow, very cool. Great photo essay.

  2. […] Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.  It has been very hot and humid.  We’ve been shooting the watermen doing their work and it has been, as always, a great experience.  Our very generous hosts have a pool right on the […]

  3. I-95 | Jon Crispin's Notebook said, on 21/01/2014 at 2:48 pm

    […] will be shown on Maryland Public Television Tuesday, 23rd April at 8.30 PM.  Here is a teaser.  And here is a link to an earlier post of mine about one aspect of the […]


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