Industry Innovators

Hoopers Island Oyster Company, known internationally as a “seed to shuck” trendsetter, is on the forefront of oyster harvesting and equipment sales

If you can’t beat Hoopers Island Oyster Company in growing the healthiest, most flavorful oysters on the Eastern Shore, co-founder and managing partner Ricky Fitzhugh welcomes you to join them. Whether the nearly decade-old Cambridge business stands alone or faces competition in the oyster industry, it’s a win-win scenario.

Fitzhugh said Hoopers Island Oyster Company is on pace to reach its goal of 1.2 million harvested oysters this year. “We should reach that goal with no problem,” he said of a growing process that features oysters being harvested on the water’s surface instead of the traditional approach of growing them on the bottom.

Fitzhugh and company made the tide-turning move in the fall of 2017, and put their oysters on the market for the first time one year later.

That process, Fitzhugh said, creates a “much cleaner product.”

“If we don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it. Why not take advantage of it?”

Ricky Fitzhugh

Yet, sales of oyster harvesting equipment is even better these days. Be it surface floats and upwellers to grow oysters or stainless steel and aluminum tumblers to tumble oysters during the growing process, Hoopers Island Oyster Company provides harvesting equipment to companies around the United States and the world.

Equipment has found its way across the border to Canada and halfway around the globe to Australia and Japan. Most recently, company officials unveiled their latest aquaculture and processing equipment for more than 100 people from oyster farms in six states along the Eastern seaboard. That included Pearlception — a three-dimensional laser grader, sorter and packer — which continues to keep Hoopers Island Oyster Company a successful and well-respected “seed to shuck” company.

Fitzhugh has been asked why company officials choose to supply equipment to other up-and-coming oyster harvesting businesses. His answer is as simple as it is logical.

“If we don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it,” Fitzhugh said. “Why not take advantage of it?”

Fitzhugh said there are few companies on the Eastern Shore — perhaps 10 to 20 percent — that grow oysters on the water’s surface. Still, with or without outside competition, Hoopers Island Oyster Company is poised to continue its growth in the oyster industry. Their great product, he said, “gives us a wider customer base.”

Story by Victor Fernandes
Photography by Jay Fleming

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