WBOC's 65 Anniversary: A Look Back at Seafood in 1954 - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

WBOC's 65 Anniversary: A Look Back at Seafood in 1954

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DELMARVA - As we continue to celebrate the 65th anniversary of WBOC coming on the air, we also continue our look back at what life was like in 1954.  Each month we explore a different event or aspect of life from six and a half decades ago.  In March, we wanted to explore what the seafood industry was like here on Delmarva 65 years ago.

One late winter afternoon, the crew of the Thunder Bay is loading ice into the boat preparing for a few days long trip out into the Atlantic for the Martin Seafood Company of Ocean City.  The crew is aiming to bring back between 15 and 20 thousand of fish.  But beyond the sounds of the ice being loaded, the marina in West Ocean City was pretty quiet.  It is the offseason, but still much less activity than what things were like 65 years ago.  At least according to Dave Martin.  Martin was 12 years old in 1954, he would go on to become the owner of the Martin Seafood Company.  In 1954, Martin said thing were just different in the West Ocean City marina.

"Well there were probably a lot of boats in if the weather was bad from Virginia and North Carolina and New Jersey trying to get out of the weather.  And they'd be packing fish because they'd want to unload and re-ice and go when the weather got better.  So, there was activity in here back in those days," Martin told WBOC.

Martin said there were more boats, more fishing companies, just more activity.    Martin added that it is much tougher today than it was 65 years ago to earn a living commercial fishing in Ocean City.

Over at the Ocean City Life Saving Museum, there is an exhibit dedicated to the fishing past of the now resort town.  Sandy Hurley is the curator of the museum.

"In the 50's, one of the biggest industries would have been the surf clam industry.  That started in the late 40's and early 50's and a lot of the surf clams that were used in clam strips from Howard Johnsons and Mrs. Paul's Seafood, they came from offshore here," Hurley said.

Hurley said over time, sport fishing became more and more popular in Ocean City, and the space around the harbor once filled with seafood houses and companies and transitioned to restaurants and housing.

Moving from the ocean to the Chesapeake Bay, seafood is a way of life in Crisfield.  Always has been, probably always will be.  But things were certainly more robust around the "Seafood Capital of the World" back in 1954, according to former mayor, and local historian, Kim Lawson.

"In 1950, in the city of Crisfield, there were 27 crab picking plants that picked crab meat.  Of those, 15 were oyster packing plants, so they did two different seafoods around the calendar.  Today, we only have two crab picking plants, one of them really is quite part time," Lawson told WBOC.

Lawson said over the past 65 years, the way people want seafood and what they're willing to pay for it has changed, which has caused so much change in Crisfield.  For Ocean City, it was an easy switch from a seafood community to tourism,  In Crisfield, the tourism aspects are there, just more for a niche outdoor market.

The city of Crisfield is evolving with the times, and whole seafood like oysters and crab will remain the backbone of the town, evolution and change was inevitable over 65 years.  However, the were many aspects of the seafood industry that made the Eastern Shore so unique, with quirks about daily life that won't be experienced ever again.

"In 1954, around the waterfront of the city of Crisfield, every crab picking plant had steam because they produced crabs by steaming them.  Therefore, they had a steam whistle and in the infancy of lower middle class people who were picking crabs, they didn't have a home telephone.  At four in the afternoon, they would listen for around the waterfront, the whistles of those houses telling them we have crabs to pick tomorrow morning, report to work at 6 o' clock," Lawson said.  "So at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, there would be a hush over the community."


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