If you were Eliza or Lori Evans, daughters of renowned Maryland waterman and single father Bob Evans, waking in the pitch of night to go crabbing was par for the course. From the age of three or four, the sisters, two years apart, were all but destined to work in the seafood industry.
Their part of the industry is Bob Evans Seafood, the family business since 1972, in Churchton since 1994. With customers from Virginia, D.C., Charles and Calvert counties, it is almost an institution in southern Anne Arundel County.
Bob Evans Seafood can’t be taken as anything other than a working yard and seafood business. In the yard are boats, skiffs, trailers, fishnets, eel pots, crab pots, a mess of five-gallon buckets, a frontend loader, a walk-in refrigerated box and several work trucks.
For Capt. Bob and his two girls, home and work fused.
“From those early days — I mean before going to school — until he passed, he never treated me different than Lori or the crew,” said Eliza, who was born with cerebral palsy. “He simply picked me up and put me in the skiff for fishing or on the Tempest for crabbing. He knew my limitations, and we worked accordingly for the next 30 years.
“For instance, I started answering the phone calls from customers at seven,” the younger sister remembers, “while Lori was more hands-on with the fish and crabs. She would steam crabs, pull live crabs, clean fish, wait on customers and so on.”
Entering high school as Lori left for college began a transition and greater learning curve for Eliza.
Capt. Bob was not an easy mentor or parent to follow.
Signs, bumper stickers and pictures throughout the shop and his house reference his personality and perspectives. I came into this world with nothing, and still have most of it left, for example, or Fishing is not about life or death – It’s way more serious than that.
He was, like Popeye, what he was.
He was also a leader in the commercial fishing industry, a vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association and president of the Anne Arundel County Watermen’s Association, active on countless state fisheries committees and councils. In 2010, National Fisherman magazine bestowed him with the coveted title Highliner.
“He was always holding court over coffee every morning at our kitchen table,” Eliza remembers. “A wide range of issues would be discussed, debated and agreed upon before the men went to work.”
Returning home for good in 2009, Eliza “paid attention,” she said, because “I wanted to be a part of them and this business.”
During her father’s illness, Eliza knew the inevitable and, though nervous, listened carefully as her father talked, sitting outside mending crab pots or fishnets or occasionally on the boat.
That, she says, is when “my education began in earnest on suppliers, other watermen, politics, fisheries and finances.”
When Capt. Bob passed in December 2015, Lori — married and with a young son — was a school administrator in Harford County. Thus, the inevitable fell to Eliza. She is now the boss.
“The first year was tough,” she recalls, “but I learned a lot, had a good crew and friends in the industry.”
Anthony ‘Shaq’ Jones, 35, had taken over the Tempest, skiff and all fishing gear prior to Bob’s death.
“I started working in the yard here when I was 11,” Jones recalls. “When I was 12, I began helping on the boats. As I grew to six-feet nine-inches, Bob said we had to raise the canopy and he started calling me Shaq after O’Neal the basketball player.”
“About a year or so before he died, we spent countless hours at the kitchen table and on the boats going over charts, maps, notes about fishing and crabbing. A lifetime of learning was being poured on me to help make a smooth transition for Eliza. He made that really clear,” Jones said.
Including Shaq, Eliza has three full-time crew and four part-time shop employees.
“It takes all of us to begin to fill his shoes: the man, the myth, the legend,” she says of her father. “There is nothing I would rather do than this because every day I’m working with my dad.”
Capt. Bob Evans, at left with his daughters Lori and Eliza, was a leader in the commercial fishing industry.
The Surprise Turn
Jones captains the Tempest, but sometimes Eliza takes the wheel.
Driving out of the channel using GPS coordinates to the first line of pots, sitting on the big blue barrel as her father did, Eliza says, “I want to experience, as much as I’m able, how the men work the fisheries as much as I can so that I know what I’m talking about with customers.
“Shaq can’t carry me like Daddy did,” she laughs. “But he does have to help me get on and off.”
June 12, the day before Capt. Bob’s birthday, Eliza, Shaq and family members took the Tempest to fish off Horseshoe Point, one of Bob’s favorite spots. When they caught only one major fish, a catfish, Bob’s sister Suzi remarked, “The Fat Cat is still with us,” referencing Bob’s nickname for himself.
When the lines were in and flowers tossed overboard, Capt. Shaq got down on one knee and proposed to Eliza.