Celebrating its 50th year of working to Save the Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) recently visited Dorchester County for its annual board retreat held this year at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort.
Hoopers Island Oyster Co.’s nursery and farm at Fishing Creek was one of two Dorchester locations more than 60 CBF board members and staff visited to learn about raising oysters and the growth of the aquaculture industry on the Chesapeake. The group also toured the oyster hatchery at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge.
“It was a tremendous honor to host the Foundation as they looked back – and look forward – to how the oyster industry can play a significant role in Bay restoration efforts,” said Johnny Shockley, Hoopers Island Oyster Co. Founding Partner. “In addition to touring our facility, Foundation leadership engaged in some meaningful discussion with our team of watermen and scientists about the possibilities for private sector oyster aquaculture to create new jobs and keep our culture and economy strong.”
Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay. Harry Lester, CBF Board of Trustees Chairman, shared his thoughts on the visit.
“Hoopers Island Oyster Company is a strong example of the role aquaculture can play in helping to clean up the Bay. From hatchery to table, Hoopers Island employs the latest technologies to produce millions of oysters that filter millions of gallons of Bay water by consuming algae and suspended solids during their grow-out period. Restoring Bay water quality is a herculean task, but a task that can be made lighter by the contributions of oyster growers like Johnny Shockley, Ricky Fitzhugh and others.”
Allison Colden, CBF’s Maryland Fisheries Scientist, helped coordinate the 2017 retreat.
“Growing the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay is a top priority for CBF. In addition to restoring reefs that provide habitat for numerous Bay species, we are focused on recovering lost filtration capacity that benefits water quality. Aquaculture provides an avenue for increasing filtration while providing local communities an economic boost – a win-win. We hope a growing, robust oyster aquaculture industry will accompany ecological restoration and improved science-based management to continue to grow the Bay’s oyster population.”
Shockley shared his vision for restoring oysters in the Bay with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Board and discussed the possibilities for public-private partnerships that would bring watermen together in cooperatives to raise oysters that could be sold at market while also creating sustainable populations.
“Private sector involvement like we are doing at Hoopers Island to raise seed, grow oysters and produce aquaculture equipment to serve fellow farmers is vital to the progression of the oyster industry,” Ricky Fitzhugh, Hoopers Island Managing Partner, said. “We are creating the infrastructure needed to support the industry and restore the oyster population on the Chesapeake, and its tributaries.”