By: Sharon Franklin, Chief of Operations

In a recent article in the Chesapeake Quarterly “Diversity Grows in Aquaculture”,

https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/90f423a556ac4a0fa435e43531cb5f3e  Imani Black describes how and why she entered the Aquaculture business.  One reason was that she rarely saw anyone who looked like her in the Aquaculture business.  She was the only Black person and one of only a few women working on oyster farms in Maryland and Virginia.  She grew up on the Eastern Shore in a family with strong maritime roots, however, she began to feel alone in an industry that she had hoped would be a part of her future.  This led her to begin to ask her colleagues, when was the last time you saw a minority in a leadership role in Aquaculture?  She said “They were shocked that I was asking that andI don’t think people really thought about it until I asked, and after asking they couldn’t give her an answer.  So, six months later Ms. Black answered her own question and founded Minorities in Aquaculture (MIA), a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging more women and people of color to enter the field.  The goal and mission of MIA is to create a membership group that fosters networking, connects young graduates with mentors, and talks frankly about overcoming challenges in oyster farming and to encourage more women and people of color to enter a field that has not been diverse in the Chesapeake Bay area.

The group has more than 50 members, and has connected with other women of color at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Chesapeake Conservancy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  This endeavor has allowed her to promote both her love of all sciences and her particular passion for Aquaculture, which she honed as a summer intern working on oyster farms as a biology major at Old Dominion University (ODU).

Ms. Black explains that building connections, expanding access was one of the goals for her nonprofit.  Her intent was to partner with larger organizations, such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition, and thus expand opportunities for minorities in this field.  Ms. Black went on to say that “starting a nonprofit advocacy organization was “not part of my five-year plan.” But,It’s really important for me that this is an extension of my own career aspirations, and I am bringing people along on my own journey “For me, what I love is being on the boat, being on the farm, being in the hatchery, and doing the hard work”.

Other individuals highlighted in this article include:

Scott Budden, of Korean descent one of the three owners of Orchard Point Oyster Company in Queen Anne’s County.  He believes he is the only leaseholder who is not white working in the state presently.

As a woman, Shannon Hood, an agent with Maryland Sea Grant Extension runs a demonstration oyster farm in Horn Point, Maryland. When Ms. Hood first decided she wanted to enter the Aquaculture profession, she’d call oyster farmers and ask if she could get experience on their farm; they’d often respond offering her work in their nurseries or supporting their marketing efforts. She went on to say “It was tough because I was automatically relegated to do the light duty work,” then she obtained an internship with the True Chesapeake Oyster Company in Southern Maryland and the Madhouse Oyster Company on the Eastern Shore.

Ms. Imani Black said “In my own experience of being a minority, I’ve been heavily discouraged many times,” but, “I felt like it was my responsibility to create a safe space, because it was something [that] I still needed.”  Now, she is hoping that like her, Shannon Hood, Scott Budden and others, they will help the Aquaculture industry grow bigger, and also make it more diverse.