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Five Generations of Crabbing in Smith Island, Maryland

Ben Sargent Pulling Crab Meat

Trying My Hand at Picking Blue Crabs

This week on Hook, Line & Dinner, I get a lesson in what it means to be in the family business. And no, not a Godfather-style family business. I’m talking about the Marshall family’s fifth-generation crabbing business on Smith Island.

Smith Island is a small island in the Chesapeake Bay, just north of Maryland’s border with Virginia. Smith Island has a very small population, and when I first arrived, I felt like I was the only one here. But I soon met up with Dwight Marshall for my lesson in crabbing.

Ben Sargent With the Marshall Family

Posing With the Marshall Family in Front of Their House on Smith Island

The Marshall family has been in the crabbing business since the 17th century, and Dwight has been at it for almost 50 years now. Compared to him, I’m not much of a crabber. But he’s good-natured and seemed almost humored by my mistakes. While we’re out there, I ask him, What’s it like living here?

“It’s a hard way of life, my boy. It’s not for everyone.  I can see you need a bit of practice.”

He talks of an ever-changing fishery which will one day wipe the island out forever. Rising fuel prices, maintenance costs and low prices for the blue crabs are threatening the continuation of the crabbing business on Smith Island. The way of life on the Island is changing for good.

With my bushel full of crabs, I head over to get them picked in the town of Tylerton. I wanted to see how this was done. I expected an entire room of bustling picking going on. I knock on the door, and  to my surprise, it’s two women. They are picking quickly and efficiently in total silence.

I sit down for a lesson in pickin’ with the two best on the island, and proceed to make a complete fool of myself. But these ladies have been doing it their entire lives, so give me some time.

Tune in tonight at 8pm ET to see how Maryland crabbing’s really done.

Authentic recipes from tonight’s episode:

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