Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
oyster dredging and oyster tonging
Deal Island, Maryland
photo credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs
Captain Ted Williams Daniels is a lifelong resident of Deal Island, Maryland, and a standard-bearer for one of the region’s major lifeways: oyster harvesting. A fifth-generation skipjack captain, he is the grandson of “Daddy” Art Daniels, a local legend who was a frequent winner of the Deal Island Skipjack Races & Festival.
Oystermen are integral to the Maryland economy, which relies heavily on annual shellfish harvests for food and exports nationwide. Traditional oyster harvesting skills include dredge-net and chain-bag repair, marlinspike seamanship, knot work, boat handling, oyster tonging, and general skipjack maintenance. While all of these skills are crucial, oyster dredging and oyster tonging have a special resonance as the two primary methods, historically and in contemporary practice, for harvesting oysters in the Chesapeake. Oyster dredging is a technique that uses a large steel frame or scoop with an attached net. The scoop is drawn along the seafloor and the shellfish that are freed by the scoop are caught in the net and drawn up to the deck. Oyster tongs resemble a pair of rakes, teeth facing each other, with long handles fastened together like scissors. Tongs are used by watermen to scrape oysters from the seabed and pull them onto the deck.
Captain Daniels is regarded as a master oysterman by his fellow watermen. In 2017, he received a Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Grant to work with his stepson, Ryan Bauer, passing down the skills and knowledge of a Chesapeake oysterman, keeping the tradition vital in his family for future generations.
Ted Daniels will be unable to demonstrate in the Chesapeake Traditions program at the 78th National Folk Festival due to a family emergency.