In 1976, William W. Warner’s book, Beautiful Swimmers, offered a lyrical look at Chesapeake blue crabs and the watermen whose lives and livelihoods revolved around them. The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and shine a national spotlight on the Chesapeake Bay.
As reporter Tamara Dietrich notes in the Daily Press, the documentary called Beautiful Swimmers Revisited takes a look at how, forty years later, the bay, blue crabs and fishery have changed, for better or worse. It is directed by Sandy Cannon-Brown whose award-winning work as a filmmaker has taken her around the world. Now she concentrates on her own backyard, the Chesapeake Bay.
Tom Horton, 70, is narrator for the film and a retired environmental journalist for The Baltimore Sun. Horton claims that one of the biggest changes in the bay crab fishery over the last four decades is the development of science-based tools to try to manage the stock sustainably.
When he first began his career in 1972, Horton said nobody knew for sure if annual fluctuations in crab yield were a result of overfishing or natural conditions. The film focuses on pollution as a key factor in depressing catches.
It also focuses on the greater number of state regulations and restrictions placed on crabbers. Warner, for instance, devotes an entire chapter to the winter crab dredge fishery, but that fishery has been banned every year since 2008, when the stock plummeted once again.
“One of the heroes is the science,” said Horton, citing in particular the “extraordinary” winter dredge survey now conducted every year by Virginia and Maryland to gauge the blue crab population. “I tell people it’s [the film] is unexpectedly hopeful.”