Innovation Bolsters Aquaculture Industry

Built on ingenuity and entrepreneurism, Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company was branded Chesapeake Gold Oysters in 2010. Co-owners Johnny Shockley and Ricky Fitzhugh pioneered the innovative aquaculture movement in Dorchester County using the latest technologies. Supported by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Rural Development Loan, Eastern Shore Entrepreneurial Center, Dorchester County Economic Development, and their own resources, the partners renovated an old wholesale fish market, purchased equipment and began raising oysters on their newly leased grounds.

It was once a thriving industry that provided livelihoods for many families on the bay but overharvesting, pollution and disease caused population declines. “We’re developing a company that will provide the infrastructure to support a new approach of producing oysters on the Chesapeake,” said Shockley. Always pushing the innovative edge, Shockley and Fitzhugh designed a system that could easily transition traditional oystering methods used by generations of watermen on the Chesapeake Bay to more efficient methods.

Their oysters are grown in cages on the bottom of the bay and then cleaned throughout maturation. They are salted to desired levels at a shore facility to make up for the bay’s inconsistent salinity. Chesapeake Gold hosts tours of their facility and share their ingenuity with others in the industry from around the world. Some in the seafood industry have traveled from as far as Australia, Denmark, South Korea and the Pacific Northwest to visit the Hoopers Island oyster facility.

As the industry becomes more efficient, there is hope the bay will replenish its oyster population and its natural filtration process will expand to more effective levels. Shockley and Fitzhugh are not alone in their efforts. Barren Island Oysters, Mad House Oyster House, Fishing Creek Oyster Company, Honga Oyster Company, and The Choptank Oyster Company are also part of Dorchester County’s aquaculture cluster.

In effort to attract businesses, market, and unify the county, the Dorchester County Economic Development office developed the “water moves us” marketing campaign. This serves as the department’s brand identity as well as a multi-platform, cooperative marketing campaign to promote Dorchester County’s assets and opportunities. The branding initiative features seven local businesses used to showcase local industries. Johnny Shockley and Ricky Fitzhugh are featured together as one of the seven business faces promoting aquaculture in Dorchester County.

To find out more about Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company, please visit www.cgoysters.com or call 410.397.3664.