Don Webster, regional specialist with University of Maryland Extension, has been awarded the U.S. Aquaculture Society Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes colleagues who have made contributions and broad impacts throughout their careers in aquaculture.
Webster started his career as a Marine Science Area Agent with Maryland Cooperative Extension in 1974 and has served the Maryland aquaculture industry ever since. Among his many accomplishments, Webster has been instrumental in supporting the aquaculture industry through policy analysis leading to legislation, developing Extension programs to help growers, and working with collaborators in Maryland and nationally to develop farming methods for shellfish during his nearly 50-year career.
Webster sheds some light on his career in this short Q&A:
1. How did you become interested in working with aquaculture?
“I was initially hired to work with commercial fisheries – our local watermen – in business management. In the late 70s, we looked at better ways to produce shellfish and finfish and aquaculture seemed like the future direction we needed to go. Initially, I worked with colleagues at the Horn Point oyster hatchery and we then also worked with finfish aquaculture for a number of years. However, I was always interested in oysters and that continues to this day.”
2. How do you think your work has impacted the aquaculture industry? If you could pick a contribution you've made that you're most proud of, what would it be?
“By working with people in the industry, we were able to determine where the biggest problems were and develop ways to address them using research and extension. A contribution I’m most proud of was working with leaders at the Department of Natural Resources, (then) Governor O’Malley, and our legislature to revise our century-old shellfish lease laws in 2009 to create a modern, ‘active use’ based program. This passed with unanimous approval in both houses of the General Assembly and led to strong growth that continues today.”
3. What are the highlights of your career so far?
“Working in a great state with a great university and Extension program while seeing progress to move oyster aquaculture forward to rebuild our industry.”
4. What is the most important thing your career has taught you?
“How well the USDA Land Grant model works to help people. The process of determining actual needs, bringing research to bear to create solutions, and building educational programs to teach modern technology is as critical today as when it began two centuries ago. It’s all about helping people build better lives.”
5. What do you hope for the future of Maryland aquaculture?
“I want to see us rebuild the oyster industry we once knew and expand from there. I want to see 100,000 acres in production in Maryland. That would be like adding another major agricultural county to Maryland – but underwater. When we get there, I want to see Wendy’s, Popeyes, and Burger King arguing about who’s got the best oyster sandwich.”