Crabs, oysters disappearing on Maryland's shrinking island

(CBS News) SMITH ISLAND, Md. - By sunrise, Pal Bradshaw and his son Chad were already on the water, hauling in blue crabs, as the people of Smith Island, Maryland, have done for generations.

Blue crabs fished off Smith Island, Maryland.
Blue crabs fished off Smith Island, Maryland. CBS News

Pal Bradshaw loves his job.

"Yeah, I started, that's all I know. I don't know nothing else and I hope I can do it till I can't no more," said Bradshaw.

In the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, Smith Island is reachable only by boat.

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CBS News has been documenting life here since 1965. Oysters and crabs were thriving, and the population was about 850.

But when we returned in 1990, there were barely half as many.

Fishing for crabs off Smith Island. CBS

"Its people, 450 of them, live on the water," said former CBS correspondent Bruce Morton.

By 1999, it was down to 350. Crabs and oysters were suffering due to pollution and the island itself was washing away.

"There was five houses right in a line there," said Jennings Evans, in 1999.

Jennings Evans was the island's unofficial historian.

Thirteen years later, at 82, he still is. Evans says the population now is less than 200.

Evans believes the island is slowly disappearing.

"I don't like to think of it. I can see that graveyard where I'm going to be laid one of these days, pretty soon I guess, and see the water coming over you," said Evans.

High school senior Kyle Tyler, who lives on Smith Island.
High school senior Kyle Tyler, who lives on Smith Island. CBS

Scientists at the University of Maryland say the water level is rising in part because of climate change and that the island could disappear in 20 to 50 years.

For high school seniors, including Kyle Tyler, the biggest decision is whether to go.

"I don't want to that's for sure. I dread it. I dread it 100 percent, but I've got to move off and try to make some money," said Kyle Tyler.

The bay can be kind and cruel.

For nearly 200 years it provided a way of life, that it now threatens to take away.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.