Reflections Off WaterWomen
The Reasons for the Book
book is a personal biography of the waterwomen of Cedar Key. My vision
of the waterwomen is reflected in my photographs. Their vision is
reflected in their stories.
strong a statement as the photographs make alone, they are subjective and
one sided, thus require the unfiltered voices of the waterwomen to make
of the striking things about these women are that they live in a small,
and still relatively isolated community. Their work is extremely
hard, and often lonely. They are their own bosses. They are not getting
rich. They work at jobs that the vast majority of the people in this
country don't even know exists. Their work is not without danger,
they probably don't have health insurance and there is no clinic or doctor
in the community, the nearest hospital is 60 miles away.
write about all this, and what it is like to be out on the Gulf of Mexico,
in their own boat, in charge of their own life, what it means to
be part of a small community where very little of what goes on seems to
be a private matter, where everybody knows the stupid things you did in
seventh grade, and yesterday. They talk about the water, their boats,
their families, and how it all comes together.
stories are not interviews, which by their very questions would slant the
information, but rather, stories straight from the women's hearts.
was easy for me to become interested in the women. They are radiant,
intelligent and special in a very unassuming way. It was not
easy for me to figure out that there was such a thing as waterwomen
in Cedar Key, nobody singled them out as such, and they did not call themselves
that. Even though I spent a lot of time on the water, I hardly ever
encountered them on the Gulf. I did not know who they were, or what
exactly it was they did. I would catch a glimpse of one or two of
them as they scooted by on their skiffs, or I would see one waitressing
or working in one of the many other jobs they did in order to make a living.
certainly do not think of themselves as being unique, or being special.
If you grew up in Cedar Key, you were connected to the water, and it was
no big deal.
thought it was an incredibly big deal. Going out on the water
with one of them at the wheel, racing by obscure channel markers, turning
at the last second, the woman with one hand on the wheel, one hand around
a coffee cup, perhaps a cigarillo between her teeth, hair flying in the
wind - tell me it wasn't a big deal. The big deal is the way these
women are unique.
collection of photographs, personal essays, stories, poems, and lyrics
asks questions and discusses ideas. It opens our eyes to a different
way of living and being in our modern world. It is a wonderful gift
from the waterwomen of Cedar Key to the reader.
of the waterwomen come from families who have lived, worked, and fished
on these islands and waters for generations. Some of them were new
to Cedar Key, and some of them only passed through. Nevertheless,
all of them are connected to the heritage of these waters, these keys,
and this culture. A culture which goes back if only in spirit, to
the native Americans who inhabited this coastline for centuries, and who
lived as much on the Gulf as on the land.
For decades, Cedar Key, Florida
was a small fishing community and a somewhat quaint tourist destination
atop some scattered keys, three miles out into the northern Gulf
the 1800's Cedar Keys - as it was called then - was a significant,
and populated Florida port. A hurricane, a major fire, declining
natural resources, shifting rail lines, and changing times all contributed
to turning Cedar Key into an obscure, isolated and difficult to reach community.
The local population declined. The Florida land boom of the 1920's
did not reach here, and the small community got by with fishing, oystering,
and crabbing. The post World War II boom also did little to change
the economic reality of life in Cedar Key. While the streets were finally
paved in the 1960's, it still remained isolated enough to serve as a training
site for the newly formed Peace Corps.
The constant, even with its natural ups and downs, was the commercial fishing
industry. It gave the fishermen, and through them, the population
in general, a purpose and a free and independent way of life, regulated
by the winds, the tides, and the fish, but not by bosses, pay checks, or
While the influence of
tourism slowly rose in the 1970's, 80's, and 90's, the jobs still were
minimal, and the wages minimum. Fishing remained the defining industry,
occupation, and calling. Since net fishing and oystering from small boats
requires enormous upper body strength, women were rarely working on the
water. They either stayed home, did fishing related jobs such as
cleaning fish and shucking oysters, waitressed, or worked for minimum wages
in the tourist motels and restaurants.
nobody 'got rich,' fishermen and their families were proud of their heritage
and independence. Then the impossible happened.
In 1994, the voters of Florida,
encouraged by the interests of sports fishermen and the boating industry,
passed a constitutional amendment to ban inshore net fishing, even from
boats as small as those of the Cedar Key fishermen.
the passage of the ban, the mood in Florida's fishing communities was one
of anger, frustration, desperation and depression. Never wealthy,
fishermen had always chosen their independence over money. Now they
were out of work and might have to work for a boss, 'pound nails',
or work at menial jobs in the tourist industry.
Cedar Key, some farsighted fishing families had begun exploring the possibilities
of employing aquaculture techniques to raise shellfish long before the
possibility of a net ban arose. First they tried oysters, but that
did not work out. Then they experimented with clams, and that showed
seemed to be the first ones to comprehend the economic possibilities of
clam farming, and they made up the bulk of the participants in the first
clam farming workshop. The fishermen were not that interested, they
were fighting the proposed net ban amendment, and confident of winning.
When the net ban did become law, the Florida Legislature appropriated money
to assist in retraining fishermen. As a part of the retraining effort,
clam farming was systematically introduced into Cedar Key and other Florida
fishing communities, and this time, the out-of-work net fishermen took
of Florida's immense coastline, maritime activities have always played
a significant part in the state's history. However, because of the
state's rapid growth and overreaching tourist economy, working on the water
for other than tourism related activities was becoming rare. Now,
with net fishing gone, even fewer genuine watermen remained. Clam
farming seemed to be a way to continue working on the water, with a new
twist, women would play a significant part in this 'fishing' industry.
all this history and all this community and conntectedness, waterwomen
may only be a briefly passing phenomena, for their future is in doubt.