Decades ago, Wingate Harbor was full of working oystermen in the late fall and winter, plying the Honga River’s thick oyster bars and bringing their catch to the dock. But when diseases took hold and the harvest plummeted, the oystermen hung up their dredges and tongs and left this lower Dorchester County, MD, village for other lines of work. Gradually, as regulations tightened on crabs and striped bass, other watermen left, too. After a fire at a dockside crab processing plant several years ago, Wingate Harbor became quiet.
Today, three watermen are back, pulling up oyster cages from leased bottom about one-half mile from the dock at the Honga Oyster Co. Longtime pound-netter Donny Simmons is the packer, putting the day’s orders in neat boxes. David Tippett, who trotlined for crabs, runs the boat to oyster cages and cleans them. Scott Hughes, who once potted for crabs, counts out the oysters for orders.
“This is the future. The past is the past,” Hughes said. “Watermen are not going to be able to stay in business. I imagine the last waterman we see working is out there working today.”