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Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship for the Cheasapeake (TaSC)

Abstract The Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship for the Chesapeake (TaSC) is a non-profit organization established in 1998 to implement a biblically-based sustainability plan, “Stewardship 2020 Vision,” that is rooted in the Christian worldview of the Tangier islanders. A small island in the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island is home to a predominately-Christian community of approximately 700 people that make their living by harvesting shellfish, especially the blue crab, whose population is on the decline because of urban pollution and agricultural run-off from the mainland. A collaborative effort between the island’s two churches, community, environmental groups, and various individuals, the stewardship initiative was launched to protect the fragile ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay and Tangier Island’s fishery culture. Both TaSC and the sustainability plan it seeks to implement (“Stewardship 2020 Vision”) are based on a Christian ethic of stewardship that is derived from the evangelical Christian worldview shared by the majority of island dwellers. Guiding the initiative, and formative in the development of the “Stewardship 2020 Vision” sustainability plan, are biblically-based environmental stewardship principles, including care-taking (faithful stewardship of God’s creation), reconciliation (between people and between people and nature), gratitude, love, and obedience (to divine and civil laws). Three TaSC subcommittees (Caring for Creation, Sustainable Economic Development and Preserving Tangier Watermen Culture, and Fishery Stewardship) have been formed to implement the sustainability plan. Under the leadership of Charlene Shores, women from the community organized an advocacy group called Families Actively Involved in Improving Tangier’s Heritage (FAIITH) to collaborate with governmental, scientific, and environmental advocacy groups to carry out the aims of “Stewardship 2020 Vision.” Through these bodies, the Tangier islanders have implemented clean-up, recycling, and waste-reduction efforts; political advocacy campaigns around fishery legislation; environmental education programs; an experimental oyster aquaculture program; and a Coastal America Project for shoreline and wetland restoration.
Religion Christianity
Geographic Location United States of America
(Tangier Island, Virginia)
Duration of Project 1998–Present

The impetus behind the Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship of the Chesapeake initiative can be traced back to 1995, when tensions between “Save the Bay” environmentalists and Tangier “watermen” (those who earn their livelihoods from water-related industries, such as crabbing) rose to a breaking point over the issue of state regulations set on oyster and blue crab harvesting. In 1997, Susan Drake Emmerich, a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin, went to Tangier Island to study the conflict and to explore the process of social change. After a few months of ethnographic research, Emmerich found that eighty-four percent of Tangier islanders identified themselves as conservative, evangelical Christians, and that the island’s two churches were the most powerful forces of change in the community. She also found that the governmental and advocacy groups in favor of stricter fishing regulations did not acknowledge the Christian worldview of the Tangier islanders, while the islanders considered the scientists, environmentalists, and government administrators to be disrespectful outsiders, whose actions on behalf of Chesapeake Bay threatened their livelihood and culture. After Emmerich presented her findings to Tangier community leaders, a citizen’s group was formed. In 1998 she was invited back to the island to help develop a stewardship initiative in which environmental and economic development issues were placed in the context of the Christian worldview of the Tangier islanders. With Emmerich’s help, the islanders experienced a shift in attitude, began taking more of an interest in taking care of their environment, and adopted a “Transformative Approach” to conflict resolution that helped them work collaboratively with “outsiders” (governmental, scientific, and environmental groups) toward the common goal of sustainability. At a joint-church meeting, fifty-six watermen participated in a Watermen’s Stewardship Covenant, where they promised to become better caretakers of God’s creation. Later, Tangier women made their own version of the covenant, called the Women’s Stewardship Covenant, which bound them to curb consumerism and obey civil laws regarding the environment. In 1998, the “Tangier Watermen’s Stewardship Vision 2020” sustainability plan was created and presented to environmental and governmental organizations. FAIITH and TaSC were established to implement the plan, and various ecological and cultural restoration projects were initiated.

Mission Statement Rooted in a biblically-based Christian worldview, the Tangier Waterman’s Stewardship for the Chesapeake initiative seeks to create an ecologically sustainable fishery, environment, and culture on and around Tangier Island.
Partner Organizations Families Actively Involved in Improving Tangier’s Heritage (FAIITH)
New Testament Church
United Methodist Church
Long-Term Goals None Listed

None Listed

Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information

Tangier Waterman’s Stewardship for the Chesapeake
Susan Parks, Director
Ph:       757.891.2329
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Additional Information Contact
Susan Drake Emmerich
Ph:       847.223.7646
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)