Larry Simns

Larry Simns (Baltimore Sun photo / September 15, 2005)

Larry Simns, who founded and led the Maryland Watermen's Association for four decades and was a key influence on efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, died Thursday. He was 75.

Mr. Simns, who grew up in the Eastern Shore fishing village of Rock Hall, was the public face of watermen, who saw their once-heavy catches of blue crabs and oysters becoming ever lighter as pollution crept into the bay. In the 1970s, he met with then-Sen. Charles McC. Mathias of Maryland, who was on a mission to examine the bay's environmental condition. Mathias' study ultimately led to multistate and federal efforts to preserve the bay.

"Larry was not just a guy who fished for crabs and oysters," said Tom Horton, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who has written eight books about the Chesapeake Bay. "He was, to his core, a waterman, but he was also able to transcend that and work with the state and environmental groups" on bay restoration efforts.

The Watermen's Association announced Simns' death on its website Thursday, accompanied by the poem "Crossing the Bar" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Robert L. Rich Jr., with whom Simns co-wrote the book "The Best of Times on the Chesapeake Bay," said Simns died of complications from bone cancer.

Gov. Martin O'Malley released a statement Thursday mourning Simns.

"For more than four decades, Larry Simns served as the voice of the men and women who tirelessly work our magnificent waterways, bringing Maryland's storied seafood to market and table," the governor said. "It is difficult to picture the Maryland Watermen's Association without Larry at the helm or to imagine our watermen's community or seafood industry without his leadership."

cwells@baltsun.com