Environment, Equity & American History: Sharing the Delaware Bay

Aired: August 28, 2011

Crewmember working onboard Lady Rae, Courtesy Bayshore Discovery Project,Delaware Bay Museum & Folklife Center.

The Delaware Bay is one of the most important wetland regions on the East Coast. Acting as an incubator for vital fish and wildlife, its natural beauty and resources have drawn settlers since the Lenape Indians. It’s also drawn conflict. As demand for access to the Bay’s limited resources grows, commercial fishermen, recreational users and environmentalists each compete to make their voice heard through environmental regulations and state or federal law. At the heart of this issue is the question of justice—who has the right to use natural resources? How have we managed our environmental resources in the past and how should we do so in the future? How do we, as a society, determine fair environmental policies? In this episode, Michael Chiarappa, Quinnipiac University, and Meghan Wren, director of the Bayshore Discovery Project, discuss these issues.

The unique environment of the Delaware Bay has drawn visitors and settlers from the Lenape Indians to European colonists to contemporary watermen, birders and environmentalists. The Bay’s environment has not only created particular industries, like oystering, but has also fundamentally shaped the culture and way of life of this region. Changes along the Bay threaten this way of life. In this clip, Wren and Chiarappa talk about the Bay’s significance and what we can learn from it.

Is there room for everybody on the Delaware Bay? How do we ensure that individuals and businesses equitably share in the use of and care for a natural resource like the Bay? In this clip, Chiarappa and Wren discuss the role of regulations in shaping the Bay, historically. From a focus on commercial use and extraction in the 19th and early 20th century to supporting recreational fisheries today, these debates have raged for generations and continue to affect New Jersey.

According to the N.J. Department of Agriculture, in the 1800s, Port Norris, a town on the Delaware Bay, was home to more millionaires per square mile than any other N.J. town. These fortunes were built on oysters, which were available in huge quantities in this era. Due to overuse and disease, however, by the post WWII era, the oyster populations were decimated. In this clip, Chiarappa talks about how local watermen responded through compromise, which he sees as a useful lesson for the present.


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