Farming the riverbed

MD-Carlton Nabb farming the riverbed_pulling the barge

Dorchester Banner/Mary Nabb
Heavy load — Captain Jimmy Insley aboard The Three J’s towing the loaded barge.

As time goes by in a person’s life you find out that many things you thought were important are no longer at the top of the list. Land — you get six feet; money — the kids will probably blow it away. Family background and history is sometimes lost in a much too fast world. The one thing that I would like to work on until I leave this earth is the restoration of the family oyster beds off of Elliott and Gray’s Islands in Fishing Bay.

Many years ago I can recall how I sometimes got the chance to go out with Robert Hurley on the “Dottie Lee” and tong some oysters. Robert bought oysters for Philip Harrington at Secretary and sometimes I would ride with him. Now Robert really liked his drink, and this probably was why one boat he built was 40 ft. on one side and 40 ft. 7 in. on the other.

Robert, who was mom’s cousin, always told me how the Gray family had beds that they worked every spring. Then when the disease struck the oyster beds in the entire bay and killed all the oysters there was no need to go out. At the time, I purchased the leases for the beds that had been in the Gray family for well over 100 years. I hoped that the Dermo would die off after a while and the beds could be restored. About 2010 we started to see some life back on the beds and the open bag dredgers worked the bottoms to try and get some good shell on top.

When I went back to my beds in Fishing Bay there were only small “lumps” of shell that had not been covered by silt. This is when I went in business with Howard Martinek, who is a top young waterman from Elliott Island and has beds of his own that were established years ago by his grandfather and father.

I was able to get financial help from state loans and federal grants. I had no idea of the cost of getting the beds back in shape, but I will do what I can as long as I’m able. The purchase and storage of shell, transporting the shell to the beds and unloading them to establish a good shell base is the beginning of the project. I have additional shell at the UMCES at Horn Point waiting for spat to be set on them. Then those shell will be put overboard on the shell base to start new oysters for the years ahead.

Re-establishing the beds is a long and hard process that continues from year to year, much as farming the land. I may not be here to reseed all of my beds, but with Howard and his boat, the “Rochelle,” I know that it will get done and hopefully my grandsons will some day take over the beds of the Gray family.

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