Love a Waterman: Wadie Murphy

Phillips Wharf wants to recognize and bring awareness to the waterman with their <3 a Waterman campaign. Everyday people sit down to eat their meals but rarely take into account the work that went into bringing them their food. Just as farmers work the land, watermen work the water to bring the bounty of the Bay to your table. For that reason, the focus of our campaign is to create a connection to the men and women that work the water to bring seafood to your table and for everyone to have a greater appreciation to them for all their hard work. It is time that we stop taking for granted the Bay, its resources, and those who bring it to our table.

Wade "Wadie" Hampton Murphy III

Born: April 30th, 1972
Boats: Miss Arielle & Hilda M. Willing

Wade Hampton Murphy III was born in Easton, MD to parents Jackie and Wade Murphy Jr. on April 30, 1972.  To friends he is known as Wade, Wadie or Little Wadie.  Wadie grew up in Tilghman, MD and started working on the water at a young age;  he got his first boat when he was 13.  You will notice a recurring theme in many of these bios.  Many of the watermen we have and will feature, started working on the water at a young age because they were following in the footsteps of their father and learning the trade.

Wadie Murphy

Wadie has two boats that he works off of.  During the months of April through October he catches crabs aboard Miss Arielle.  From November to March he dredges for oysters aboard Hilda M. Willing, which is one of the last remaining skipjacks still commercially working the water. “Of the original 600 to 800 skipjacks built as dredge boats, mainly between the late 1890s and mid-1900s, only about 20 are still afloat. Of these, only about half a dozen dredged commercially in the past five years.”

Skipjacks differ from traditional workboats because they are actually sailing vessels but most have been updated to have “push boats” that power them.  Wadie’s commercial license for a skipjack allows him to harvest 150 bushels of oysters a day whereas a power dredger’s license only allows the holder to harvest 12 bushels or 15 bushels a day for shaft tong, patent tong, and diving licenses.  Even though their limit allows them to harvest 150 bushels that does not mean that they’re going to.   “On a good year we can catch 150 bushels a day. But with the decline in oyster population it's been half of that or less.”

Rebecca T Ruark

When I asked Wadie to tell me a little about working on a skipjack his reply was straight to the point “Long days. Cold weather. Sometimes not many oysters.”  The life of a waterman is not easy.  There are many long days in all types of weather and their work is never done.  Everyday they go out to work with the uncertainty of whether it will be a good day or not.  Will they make enough money to be profitable for the day?  Will they harvest enough to pay their crew?  Will they make enough to feed their families?  According to Wadie, him and his crew need to catch 40 to 50 bushels of oysters to have a profitable day. “ I have a crew of 6 men. To make it profitable for me and the crew I need to catch around 40 or 50 bushels a day.”  Their limit is 150 bushels and that may seem like a high limit to you but, “traditional skipjacks have much higher maintenance costs than other types of vessels used in the oyster fishery, as well as requiring many more crew members to operate the vessel.”

Even though Wadie is still pretty young he has seen many changes in the Bay over his many years working the water.  When Wadie was asked what his thoughts about the oyster population in the Bay, his reply was “there has been a huge decline in the population over the past couple years. “  He feels as though oyster aquaculture would help clean the Bay.  A cleaner Bay and well thought out aquaculture practices may help the oyster population grow and create a more sustainable future for the next generation of watermen.

Wadie is kind, hard-working, and always straight to the point.  He always does what he can to provide for his family.  When he is not commercially working the water he private charters both of his boats for crabbing, fishing, hunting trips, or sails aboard the skipjack.

Chesapeake Bay WatermanWadie and his father who captains the Rebecca T. Ruark, also a skipjack have been an immense wealth of knowledge and educational support to Phillips Wharf.  They are an integral part of our oyster education programs where kids come to Phillips Wharf to learn about oysters.  They take them out in the skipjacks to give the kids a firsthand experience of what it may be like to work on the water.

When asked why do you work on the water?  Wadies’ response was “Because I was born and raised on Tilghman Island and that was what I learned. And I love being on the water. I like being my own boss. I have the best office in the world.  Working on the water has been great for me. It's provided for me and my family. But I'm really worried and upset that it's getting harder every year to make a good living on the water. It's not going to be profitable for future generations.”

The money raised from our #<3AWaterman campaign will go to helping local watermen in the lengthy process of getting oyster leases, partial scholarships for anything they may need to help them set up or repair any equipment relating to aquaculture or towards other needs for creating a more sustainable environment for aquaculture so that we can continue enjoying the bounty the Bay has to offer and to foster an environment where the watermen can thrive.
If you have questions please contact Missy at