So, the watermen went public. A Pandora's box was opened via satellite and newspapers' first editions. Fred Maddox & Sons & Friends & Employees were deluged with media -- which equaled exposure, which equaled quality attention from people who could help. The state moved in with the Maddoxes -- with more official types that you could shake a stewed muskrat at.
Mistrust was in the water, though. Lori Maddox says there were a few reporters who seemed to want the situation to be worse. "They wanted us to be sicker than we were and broker than we were."
But you can't ask the press to leave the dance when you invited them. Plus, the watermen were getting results. On Friday Aug. 8, the state closed this sick slice of the Pocomoke. Drastic, yes; overdue, maybe; big news, definitely.
"It's time," Fred Maddox says, "to let people do their work."
Pfiesteria is a microscopic animal with 24 known life stages. It only becomes toxic in the presence of fish, whose secretions somehow alert Pfiesteria to their presence...
As described by JoAnn Burkholder, a North Carolina aquatic botanist who first identified Pfiesteria in 1991.
"Pfiesteria Hysteria!" Catchy, eh?
"I didn't even hear of pfiesteria until a few months ago," says Jim Hedrick -- and he's getting a Ph.D. in fisheries science. Like other students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he has been assigned to the fish kill.
JoAnn Burkholder nicknamed pfiesteria the "cell from hell" because of its morphing mysterious self. Billions of fish in North Carolina died from the organism, which hasn't stopped in the Tar Heel State.
At Maddox's dock, Sheila Tanata steps off a boat with a civilian cooler on her hip. Up since 4 a.m., the Eastern Shore student begins necropsies on a load of perch and rockfish. She works side-by-side with Lori Maddox in a work room off the dock. Sheila dissects the day's catch for science; Lori wraps the day's catch of crabs bound for New York restaurants.
Sheila, a Minnesota native, has become a regular in Shelltown by being regular. "If you're not genuine, they'll spot it immediately," she says.
With that, she has exposed something else in the water. Another creepy organism. It causes some people to underestimate the mental grit of watermen. No one (with any sense) challenges a waterman's physical constitution. It is safe to say, however, that most watermen do not have degrees in fisheries science. But academic degrees can be used to wrap crabs, too.
"Watermen are some of the smartest people I know," says Sheila. "Some people don't know that -- but they will."
Waterman David Loveland, who works for Maddox, has finished his day of crabbing, but hangs around to help Sheila. Few other other circumstances would toss these two together. But this common cause and uncommon problem has demanded a kind of cross-training.
"You want to write for me?" Sheila asks Dave.
Taking the notebook, Dave pencils in: 97 EM PM WP #54 190 Lesion on belly. Decoded, a white perch has become the 54th Pocomoke fish clipped open, another fish with a lesion on its belly. Dave doesn't need an interpreter.
"I'm no doctor but I'm learning," he says. "It's been an education for everyone."
The talk is about muskrats. A safe subject.
"The secret is the way they're cooked. Use a lot of sage and red pepper to take all that wild taste away -- make 'em fit to eat."
Donald Mahan stands outside the country store he's run for half a century. It seems as right a place as any to rustle up opinions on the fish kill. See where people stand.
Listen, Mahan says from behind his postmaster's gilded booth. If you've come to blame the chicken farmers for the fish kill, "I'll give you directions to a boggy creek." Get your car stuck real good.
On the subject of watermen, the storekeeper is just as opinionated. "All they do is take, take, take. They don't give anything back."
When and how are these opinions born? Are they passed down %% through generations or individually hatched? Inside Mahan's store, nothing is said against the chicken farmers. Away on the Pocomoke River, it's easier to speak up.
Corp. Danny Tyler, Crisfield native and former waterman, sputters up to the Somerset County public dock in a 17-foot Boston Whaler. His shift as an officer with the state Department of Natural Resources is a lonely gig today. The river is a ghost town.
They say around here you either work for the state or against it. Well, Tyler might be in the middle. He grasps the waterman's woes but has to enforce the regulations that downright enrage his former brethren.
He eyeballs the stacks of crab pots drying out -- next to rows of corn reportedly sprayed nightly with pesticides -- next to rows of chicken houses packed with manure. Sandwiched together, the businesses all use the watershed. Ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay is at their disposal.