John Van Alstine
Master crab pot maker and Chesapeake Bay waterman John Van Alstine builds every piece of equipment he uses, from crab pots to gill, eel, fyke and pound nets, as well as dredges and pot tongs. Each year, he builds between 100 to 300 crab pots.
A fixture on the Chesapeake Bay, crab pots are built of an enclosed wire framework with four openings; baited and dropped to the bottom of the bay, they create an inescapable trap for any crab that enters. When John began to work full-time on the water in 1995, he was unable to find someone to teach him the trade skills necessary to build all the equipment. This was not due to lack of entrenched knowledge among his fellow waterman; rather, a competitive nature prevails on the water, and he was seen as new competition for the same finite catch. So, John began the slow process of teaching himself how to build everything he needed by trial and error.
That body of knowledge is slowly taking a backseat as today’s watermen can get by with commercial crab pots. John is working to keep alive the traditions he taught himself, showing others how to build their own pots. There is interest in this craft; he counts fifth-generation watermen among his students. John is teaching apprentice Brian Middeldorf (who is unable to attend the festival) how to build different styles of pots, where to source construction materials, and how to establish a production process to build a large quantity of uniformly built pots.