By Johnny Shockley
am a third-generation waterman born and
raised on Hooper’s Island, which is a waterman’s community. My father is a waterman
and my grandfather was a boat builder having built approximately 30 Bay workboats
in the time that I knew him. When I was
16, my dad and I built my first skiff, which
I worked on through high school. After
graduating from high school, I decided to
become a full-time waterman and started
building the 43-and-a-half-foot workboat
that I still use today. It took two years to
build, working only on days when I couldn’t work on the water. There were many
days that I worked on the water during the
day and spent the late afternoons and early
evenings working on the boat. After what
seemed like forever, I launched the Islander
in May of 1983.
Oyster harvesting is in Johnny Shockley’s blood. He began oystering with his father and grandfather
when he was only 12. Now 47, Johnny has changed tacks, opening an oyster aquaculture business
based in Fishing Creek, Maryland.
ting and growing seed through the summer
which resulted in 600,000 seed. We then
purchased an additional 600,000 seed for a
total of 1.2 million seed to begin our second season.
In 1990, my wife and I, along with my parents, opened Chesapeake Treasures
Seafood, a seafood carryout restaurant in
Salisbury, Maryland. We are still in oper-atation after nearly 20 years. When we
opened, things were changing around the
water business and in order to continue
working the water we had to find additional ways to market our way of life and sustain our income. As the years have gone by
my dad and I continue to work our boats
catching mainly crabs, but also oysters and
fish to sell at our store.
90s we could do well harvesting oysters.
We were often able to start our season by
September 15 and end in March. However,
that has changed over the years as the stock
has declined. The decline in stock is a
result of many factors, two of the main factors being disease and over harvesting.
These factors put more pressure on the
other fisheries and took opportunities away
from our watermen. As the years have
passed, our restaurant continues to prosper. Working on the water, however, has
made less and less sense due to the increase
in expenses and the additional effort needed to make a day’s catch.
Currently, I am building our workboat
which is customized to tend oysters grow-
ing in bottom cages. We are making plans
to market a line of oyster aquaculture
equipment and our own brand of oyster
called “Chesapeake Gold.”
After reading about oyster aquaculture
opportunities, I began to research what was
happening in Virginia. I was intrigued by
what I found, and I approached a longtime
friend, Ricky Fitzhugh, also in the seafood
business, with the information and ideas.
In November 2009, a new oyster aquacul-
ture business was born. In March 2010, we
started building the tanks needed to help
grow oysters faster. In May of 2010, our
first triploid larvae were set on micro cultch
(small pieces of shell). We continued set-
Ricky and I are excited about this new
industry. We expect it to be sustainable and
profitable, allowing us to continue our way
of life and play a role in bringing back the
health of our national treasure, the
uTo find out more about Chesapeake Gold
oysters, visit cgoysters.com.
Over the years we have seen many ups and
downs, but overall a slow decline in stocks
of crabs and oysters. In the 70s, 80s, and
Oysterman Johnny Shockley
and his partner Ricky
Fitzhugh founded one of
Maryland’s first commercial
oyster aquaculture businesses.