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This book features oyster beds as a political and environmental battleground. The author applies perspectives of environmental, agricultural, political, and social history to examine the decline of Maryland's iconic Chesapeake Bay oyster industry.
Oystermen have held on to traditional ways of life and some continue to use preindustrial methods, tonging oysters by hand from small boats. Others use more intensive tools, and thus it is commonly believed that a lack of regulation enabled oystermen to exploit the bay to the point of ruin. But Keiner offers an opposing view in which state officials, scientists, and oystermen created a regulated commons that sustained tidewater communities for decades. Not until the 1980s did a confluence of natural and unnatural disasters weaken the bay's resilience enough to endanger the oyster resource.