Love a waterman: Ryan Crouch

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.

Ryan Crouch

Ryan Oliver Crouch
Born: January 4th, 1984
Boat: Broad Creeker

Ryan Oliver Crouch was born in Easton, MD to parents Edward and Deborah Crouch (now Deborah Hershey Starkey) on January 4th, 1984. Ryan grew up in Bozman, MD. He couldn’t quite remember the exact age when he first started working on the water but said, “I started going crabbing with my father in the summer since I was just a youngster. I don’t know how old I was but as far back as I can remember summertime I remember crabbing.” Even though Ryan could not pinpoint his age when he started working the water he did however remember when he started to work on the water alone. At 12 years old Ryan started crabbing on his first boat which was an 18ft Chincoteague scow.

Ryan is a full-time waterman; He catches crabs by trotlining from April to October and then he harvests oysters by patent tonging from October to March. He uses his boat Broad Creeker for both harvesting seasons. It was plain to see in Ryan’s responses to my questions that his passion is crabbing and has no love lost for oystering. No matter what a waterman chooses to harvest for the seasons it almost always involves long days on the job, hard physical labor, and in less than optimal weather no less. Here is a peek into the day to day life of Ryan:

Jan through early May are tough months for an oysterman as the larger oysters are generally already harvested due to the restrictions of workable bottom and sanctuaries. The state of MD has left us with little bottom to harvest from, so in the summertime when crabbing is good we really have to go extra hard to be able to put money away for the inevitable “bad months” in the winter. Generally, speaking in the summer I leave my house around 4am and return home around 4:00 to 4:30 to pick my kids up from daycare and school and most evening I return to my boat to finish baiting up around 6:00 pm when my wife gets home from work. I’m not complaining though, I chose this life because I absolutely love it and every year when I quit crabbing to go oystering, about a week into oystering, I find myself looking forward to next summer. Oystering?? I can take it or leave it. The state has made oystering very hard for us. We often have to travel up and down the bay to better oyster grounds because the state has removed so much local bottom around here for sanctuaries. The traveling is what I hate about oystering. If I could stay and work local waters oystering all winter I wouldn’t mind the job, but when u have to travel 3.5 to 4hrs a day in the truck roundtrip on top of working it gets old quick.
There are not many people I know (other than watermen and farmers) that start their days that early and end their day in the later hours of the evening. They do it because it is what they know and love, because it has been passed on to them and it is their heritage, and because they have families to feed and support just as Ryan does.

Ryan is not opposed to aquaculture and sustainable fishing but he feels that it is not right for him, and for some very good reasons. Here is what Ryan had to say about starting an aquaculture/ oyster farming operation of his own:

It seems that to be successful at aquaculture you have to have deep pockets to get set up right and be prepared to have zero income the first 2-4 yrs. Also, it is a fairly risky business due to the chance that MSX or DERMO could become a factor and wipe out your whole crop much like what happened over the summer this year bay wide. I’m a young man with a wife and 2 kids and a house and a lot of bills. Now suppose I sank most of my life savings and a loan into an aquaculture business. Waited 2 to 3yrs for my product to reach harvestable size to pull them up and find that a disease had killed all the oysters. Well I’d be done. In my eyes, the risk/reward factor is way too unbalanced. A lot of risk for a minimal reward. Plus, if you don’t have a waterfront property to run your business where would you keep your upwellers and setting tanks. It’s just not feasible for most watermen to get into. On top of all that you have to worry about theft from people at night stealing your oysters which happens more than one might think.
Unfortunately, many of these barriers and regulations are what is holding the watermen back from fruitful harvests. They understand that oyster harvests are down and something needs to change but they cannot risk investing money on something that is not a sure thing when they have mouths to feed. A decision that I cannot blame them for making.

I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with Ryan for most of my life since his sister has been a great friend of mine for as long as I can remember. Ryan is kind and funny but has no qualms about telling you like it is. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and loves the outdoors. When he is not working, he is spending time with his family or hunting.

When asked “Why do you work the water?” Ryan replied “I work on the water because I absolutely love it and the lifestyle it provides me. I am my own boss, and make my own decisions. Every day is an adventure and you are never guaranteed success but if you work hard and have a knowledge of the water around you can make a living for yourself. I always think to myself that when I’m old and my time is drawing near I feel like I’ll be thinking back to my younger days on the water, the sunrises, the HOT summer days crabbing up back creek, those first hauls in the morning crabbing when there seems to be a crab on every bait, the COLD winter days hunting when the weather wasn’t fit to oyster. I think that when my time is close that those will be memories I’ll remember and then I think about what I’d think about had I chose another profession. I can’t see how anyone working an office job or carpentry, electrician, lawyer, banker, or anything else can have the memories with nature that I’ll have. So, that’s why I work on the water.”

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