There’s a unique entrepreneurial spirit that drives Chesapeake Bay watermen like Hoopers Island Oyster Co. founders Ricky Fitzhugh and Johnny Shockley.
Ricky worked the docks of the family seafood business at age 10. He became a commercial fisherman and went on to launch his own wholesale fish and ice companies.
Johnny built his first workboat and like his father and grandfather, he was out most mornings before sunrise harvesting crabs and oysters in the waters surrounding Hoopers Island.
As wholesaler and independent contractor, both men were acutely aware of the bleak outlook for the Chesapeake Bay oyster. What was a $50 million industry on the Bay in the late 1800s ($1 billion by today’s valuation) is now 95 percent depleted due to disease and over fishing of brood stock in the wild oyster beds.
With seemingly no solution in sight, they began to explore new opportunities. They became intrigued by the opportunities arising around sustainable aquaculture in Maryland and launched our company in 2010.
Combining years of experience on the water with passion and newfound optimism, they designed their own boats, metal and fiberglass equipment for oyster farming. Young oysters were soon growing in onshore tanks and eventually transferred to grow in local waters.
Today, our team of oyster growers, scientists, equipment craftsmen, warehouse and office staff are creating new jobs and economic opportunities while improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Today, the Hoopers Island Oyster Co. envisions a thriving sustainable seafood industry and is establishing a new foundation for the oyster on the Chesapeake and in coastal bays around the world.