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The Singing Crab Pickers: A Chorus of Hope

The women of the island town of Tylerton in the Chesapeake Bay sing gospel hymns as they pick the crabs caught by their husbands and sons.  Their music sounds timeless, and visitors might imagine pickers in the fishing community singing work songs like this since the English landed here in 1638.

But actually, the tradition of the island women getting together every evening at 5 p.m. to pick and sing only dates back only to 1998.  The beautiful chorus was inspired by -- of all things -- a government sting operation. 

Maryland health officials cracked down on a lack of licenses among pickers on the island, which is part of Smith Island.  The women of Tylerton responded by teaming up and forming the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-Op, which became a successful business that sells crab meat to mainland stores. 

The workers sing to ease the monotony of the repetitive labor and raise their spirits.  Theirs is a hymn of hope for the Chesapeake Bay.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.