Eels, Ducks, and Clams

Eels, Ducks, and Clams (HM2EEF)

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N 38° 50.953', W 76° 30.708'

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I haven't seen 15 bushels of clams in so long... You do worse more days than you do better. Nature can't put it back as fast as man takes it away.
— Ellsworth Brown, clammer, age 55 (1977)


Bay fishermen trap eels in eelpots. "To catch eels, explains waterman Kenneth Neman, "make an eelpot, and then bait it with crabs, clams, horseshoe crabs, and stuff like that." In the past, children got in on the action, too. Erwood Avery remembers how he "used to dig fishing worms and put them on a string and make a little bobbin about so long... The eels would get their teeth hung up into it and couldn't get loose. You'd pull them up and drop them over in a stone jug. It would be salt water, and they'd be salted eels."

Until a few decades ago, Chesapeake watermen caught eels to use as trotline bait — food for crabs rather than people. In the mid-1960s, however, eels became an important food export. A waterman might catch up to 1,000 pounds and ship them live by air overseas to Europe or Japan where eel was a delicacy.


Ducking was more for sport than subsistence in Shady Side. Maryland's first duck hunting club was founded in 1819. By the 1870s duck hunters shot almost 15,000 canvasbacks a day on the Bay. In the 19th and early 20th century, the

Lerch family operated a duck hunting facility — a duck blind and a gunning shore in Shady Side. When the sport was popular, you could find duck blinds every 500 yards, just off shore, from Shady Side to Deale.
J.H. Perrine of Barnagat, New Jersey, built the sneakbox on display in the early 1900s. It served as a gunning boat for duck hunting in the Chesapeake and Barnegat Bays. Duck hunters, especially on the Eastern Shore and the Susquehanna Flats, used sneakboxes from 1819 until 1936 when the State of Maryland officially outlawed them. Anne Arundel County had banned them much earlier — in 1854 — the first County to forbid their use for shooting wildfowl.

When in use, sinkboxes and sneakboxes were drapped with muslin or canvas and then camouflaged by as many as 300 duck decoys — some made of cast iron to weigh down the boat. Snug and hidden in his boat, the hunter would shoot the ducks after they landed on the water alongside the decoys.


Bay residents could harvest clams on a small-scale with buckets and shovels at the beach, or, beginning in the 1960s, on a larger scale with the invention of the hydraulic clam harvester. To take advantage of the clamming boom, watermen retrofitted deadrise workboats like the Edna Florence for clamming — their aft cabins removed to make way for the machinery. The hydraulic conveyor was very efficient. As a result, clamming quickly reached its peak in 1965, and soon catches began to decline, a consequence of over-harvesting. Clamming with a hydraulic conveyor could damage oyster beds, and great controversy arose between oystermen and clammers over when the clammers could work.

That's My Living — Following the Water
Placed ByChesapeake Bay Gateways Network
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, February 18th, 2019 at 1:03pm PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 368809 N 4301130
Decimal Degrees38.84921667, -76.51180000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 50.953', W 76° 30.708'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 50' 57.18" N, 76° 30' 42.48" W
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