HOOPER's ISLAND — Watermen and farmers have been the backbone of the Eastern Shore for more than 200 years, providing an economic boon for the region. However, the same way of life that put the Eastern Shore on the map and great food like Maryland blue crabs and oysters on plates across America, is the very same that has contributed to the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay.


According to a 2011 study published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, oyster populations in the Bay are at 0.3 percent of the historical values of 200 years ago due to habitat loss, disease and over-harvesting.


However, by combining the two historically significant industries of commercial fishing and farming, aquaculture has been gaining traction as a solution to maintaining the economic viability of the Chesapeake.


“(Aquaculture) is critical to the environment and to the cultures that were grown around these oysters,” said Johnny Shockley, waterman and co-founder of Hooper’s Island Oyster Aquaculture, a company designed to create a new approach to the commercial oyster industry. “It’s essential that we re-establish oysters for ecological and economic reasons,” Shockley said.


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