The Chesapeake commercial fishing community is full of practical, hard-working businessmen and women who overcome weather, regulatory challenges, and market obstacles every day. Some go even further to combine their grit and drive with innovation and vision to create a business that leverages the allure of Chesapeake seafood and new market opportunities. Johnny Shockley, a career waterman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, is doing just that.
Johnny began oystering with his dad and grandfather at the age of 12. For the last 35 years, he has worked on the water making his living by harvesting the Chesapeake’s blue crabs, fish and oysters. Recognizing the growing challenges to his industry and family heritage, Johnny realized that he needed to “think outside of the box” to create new business opportunities for his family.
After over three years of hard work and planning, Johnny and his business partner, Ricky Fitzugh, officially launched Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc., home of Chesapeake Gold Oysters. Last year, Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, Inc. bought 1 million oyster larvae, grew them to market size over the past 12 months and is now selling the seafood delicacy throughout the Washington, DC area. This year, they expanded to four million more larvae.
Now, Johnny is using his experience and know-how to help other watermen build similar businesses and beat the odds in this challenging business economy. Where others see obstacles, Johnny sees hope and opportunity. He not only has a vision for the future of oysters in Maryland, but also for improved blue crab management where both are a part of a thriving, profitable industry on the Chesapeake Bay.
Fortunately, a growing number of Chesapeake watermen are following his cue. Like Johnny, many Maryland watermen are embracing change and innovation and are looking for ways to maintain and grow their culture, their businesses and the communities in which they live.
These leaders have come together to serve and work together on the volunteer, industry-led Blue Crab Design Team. They are thinking long-term, collaborating with the Department of Natural Resources and working with EDF to study alternatives and make recommendations for better management of the Maryland blue crab fishery. These efforts and ideas can inspire us all to listen closely, learn, and support the innovators and problem-solvers of the Chesapeake waterman community.