Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
photo courtesy of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University
Since the age of five, Joyce Fitchett has been picking crabs and working in the seafood industry. Joyce is an eight-time crab-picking champion at the National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield. She has worked, also in Crisfield, at Byrd’s Seafood and the Maryland Crab Meat Company, and now works for the Eastern Shore Correctional Institution. Fitchett has a strong memory of her work in the seafood industry and the history of her community. She is also a gospel singer.
The traditional skill of crab picking, or removing crabmeat from steamed crabs, flourished in the female workforce of picking houses in maritime communities along the Chesapeake Bay during the boom of the blue crab business in the 1930s and ’40s. Crisfield women who picked crab for local packing houses found themselves working 10-12 hours a day during the boom of the industry, when the city became known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.” This rich tradition of crab picking was passed through generations of women at work and at home. Now, with the decline of crab harvests, less work is available. Yet, this occupational tradition lives on: local women crab pickers exhibit their skills annually on Labor Day weekend at the National Hard Crab Derby picking contest.
Fitchett possesses great knowledge on the economic and environmental issues concerning the crab industry and the workers involved. She has supported the importance of the fishery to the Chesapeake region through numerous demonstrations and lectures on picking techniques and work in the seafood industry.