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Gender, Family, and Work in 
Maryland's Blue Crab Fishery

Michael Paolisso, Principal Investigator
Stacey Hockett Sherlock, Co-Principal Investigator

In Maryland's lower Chesapeake Bay, the shedding and marketing of soft crabs is a thriving business that relies on the labor of women as well as watermen.  There are several reasons why we are looking at the work of women in the soft crab fishery:

  • Descriptions of the blue crab fishery rarely identify the important contributions of women who are not working directly on the water;
  • There is very little literature that describes the shedding and marketing of soft crabs;
  • There is significant variation in women's roles in the soft crab fishery;
  • Women's non-fishery paid employment is important in maintaining the family blue crab business;
  • Little is known about how declines in fishing yields and increased regulations affect women and their work, both in the fishery and in their other economic roles.

The predominant production unit in the soft crab industry is the household.  Although the roles of family members vary in each household, the work of women is often essential to a successful shedding operation.  In addition to constantly monitoring crab floats to "fish-up" newly shed crabs, women often clean, pack, and market their family's soft crabs, maintain the financial books, and do housework such as cooking and cleaning.  Women's non-fishery paid employment can secure health insurance for the family, and provides income the cushions hardship when crab prices drop or the harvest is low.

Funding for this project is provided by the Maryland Population Research Center, formerly the Center on Population, Gender, and Social Inequality, located at the University of Maryland, College Park.


University of Maryland | Department of Anthropology | 1111 Woods Hall | College Park, MD 20742