watermen are immersed in harvesting and preserving the bounty of the
Chesapeake Bay. They make it possible for Southern Marylanders to enjoy
fresh crab feasts, fresh oysters and fish. Captain Edwin Smith, known to
everyone as Smitty, is one of those hard working watermen. He lives in
Solomons, where he owns and operates Capt. Smith's Seafood Market, which
he opened in 1990. Between business calls and deliveries, Smitty-a tall,
strong-looking man, who talks fast and gets to the point with clarity
and honesty- told me the story of his life:
"I grew up on Smith Island, Maryland's only inhabited off-shore island,
in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay" he began. "The closest hospital was
in Crisfield on the Eastern shore, where I was born in 1946. I attended
first to eighth grade on Smith Island, going to Crisfield to attend high
On Monday mornings, Smitty had to be waiting on the dock by 6:30 for the
Island Star, the school buy boat, to pick him up. Two hours later, he'd
arrive in Crisfield. During the week, Smitty lived there in a boarding
house with three other high school students, returning home to Smith
Island on Friday afternoons. "I would rather have been at home out in
duck blind hunting," he recalled. "It was not easy but I made the most
it and graduated in 1964."
At age 20, Smitty was drafted into the army and served for three years,
one of those in Vietnam. He then returned to Smith Island to follow in
the vocation of his father and grandfathers, both watermen. "One
grandfather owned a skip jack receiving the first crab potting license
ever issued in the State of Maryland," he said. "My other grandfather
owned and operated an oyster buy boat.
"My grandfathers and father warned me that in 1941 the crabs disappeared
and nobody knew why. It was not from over-fishing or pollution. Seventy
percent of the watermen had to leave Smith Island, working mostly in
Baltimore at the shipyards. It took eighteen months for Mother Nature to
replenish the crabs," he said. The warning did not stop Smitty. He
bought a boat and for the next 35 years worked as a fully licensed
Smitty and Cindy Grover married on June 15th, 36 years ago. They became
the parents of Carly, Curtis and Mindy. The birth of their youngest
daughter, Mindy, remains fresh in Smitty's mind. "I was up river
unloading a boat. My wife was in labor, hemorrhaging and could not reach
me; fog and ice covered the bay. The fog cleared up just long enough to
get the chopper in to pick up my wife, transporting her to a hospital in
Salisbury." Smitty was flown by helicopter to his car in Crisfield. When
he reached the hospital, he was grateful to learn that his wife and new
baby daughter were well. All three children, now grown, work at the
Patuxent River Naval Base. Cindy works at the Calvert Marine Museum.
Smitty and Cindy now enjoy grandchildren.
In 1985, Smitty moved his family from Smith Island to Solomons. It took
two trips across the bay to move all their possessions into the home
they still live in today. During those years, Smitty worked on the
water, ran the fish market, became a licensed Coast Guard Captain, and
worked for the Maryland Pilot's Association.
Of his many accomplishments as a waterman, Smitty is especially proud
that as the President of the Tangier's Sound Watermen's Association, he
helped write a bill that Delegate Danny Long, now Judge Long, introduced
into the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. "The bill passed in
1983, making it legal for oyster boats to dredge using power engines,"
Asked what he valued most about being a waterman, Smitty said simply,
"my independence." Today he remains passionate about the health of the
Chesapeake Bay. "People, who make their living on the water, want to
take care of the water. I look forward to the day scientists and
watermen will sit down at the same table and work together to save the
Chesapeake Bay for future generations."
Capt. Smith's Seafood Market, Patuxent Plaza Shopping Center, P.O. Box
423, Solomons, Maryland 20688, 410-326-1134. Retail or wholesale.