Voices From the Waterfront

Meet crabbers Mark and Penny Hooper


In this month’s “Voices From the Waterfront” we hear from Mark and Penny Hooper of Smyrna, N.C., a husband and wife team who have been running a soft shell crab business for more than 35 years — in good times and in bad — and raising their two children along the way.




Mark and Penny Hooper’s crab business, which they’ve run for more than 35 years, is a true partnership.

Mark and Penny Hooper’s crab business, which they’ve run for more than 35 years, is a true partnership.

(Photo by Alison Yin)

Q: How did you get into fishing?

Mark: I was in the midst of studies to be an oceanographer when I decided I was looking for a different experience. Penny and I were newly married and we moved to North Carolina; I started working on a shrimp trawler. Eventually, I worked on my own boat, trawling for shrimp, crabbing and raising hard clams.

Penny: When we first came here, we were both self-employed. I was a potter, and Mark was a fisherman, and we worked our seasons around each other’s “prime times.” When I had craft shows, he was there to tote my pottery. When he had to do the soft shell crabs, I helped him with the crabs. We forged this partnership before we were married when we were diving buddies on Catalina Island. The buddy system is an absolute crucial part of scuba diving. That is what we’ve taken as our role for the rest of our lives.

Q: How has your fishing business developed over the years?

Mark Hooper catches crabs off the coast of North Carolina in his boat, the Lucky Penny Too, which is named for his wife and business partner.

Mark Hooper catches crabs off the coast of North Carolina in his boat, the Lucky Penny Too, which is named for his wife and business partner.

(Photo by Alison Yin)

Mark: The breakthrough came in the late 1970s when I had a part-time job as a diving safety officer that took me to the eastern shore of Maryland. I saw how watermen were running soft shell crab businesses, using peeler pots to collect crabs about to shed, and operating shedders, or saltwater tanks, on shore where they could let crabs shed their shell and harvest them as soft shell crabs.

I took this idea back to North Carolina where no one was doing this and turned it into a good business. Our soft shell crabs are some of the first of the year to reach the New York market. It’s our big money maker. I also lease 1.6 acres of bottom on Core Sound, where I raise hard clams. And I fish for hard crabs.

Q: How do you market your catch?

Mark: I sell crabs and clams through a number of North Carolina markets and sell most of the soft shell crabs directly to the New York market. I’m on the board of Carteret Catch, a group that promotes our locally produced seafood with a label and public education.

Soft shell crabs like this one are a large part of Mark and Penny Hooper’s crabbing business.

Soft shell crabs like this one are a large part of Mark and Penny Hooper’s crabbing business.

(Photo by Alison Yin)

I’m also part of Walking Fish, a fishermen’s cooperative that Duke University students helped us develop. Modeled on community-supported agriculture, Walking Fish has 300 members in Durham who purchase a share of fish. This cooperative allows us to go from wholesale prices to retail prices. It’s rebuilding a relationship between fishermen and seafood eaters that’s been lost through the globalization of seafood.

Globalization of seafood, with low-cost, foreign imports, has depressed our prices. By helping people buy local, high-quality seafood, we’re helping people get a better product, and they’re supporting the fishing community. And, our money stays here.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years as a fishing family?

Penny: We were both self-employed and raising two children. Eventually that idyllic situation ended up with us and our two teenagers sitting here at the end of a dirt road looking at each other. They needed to go to college, and we needed health insurance. At that point, I went to work for the community college teaching biology. Now after 15 years teaching, I’m retired, and I can go back to the studio and play with clay again. Mark’s helping me again, and I’m helping him again.

Crabber Mark Hooper lets his dog Rusty steer the boat home after a day of crabbing in North Carolina.

Crabber Mark Hooper lets his dog Rusty steer the boat home after a day of crabbing in North Carolina.

(Photo by Alison Yin)

Q: How can people support small-scale, sustainable fishing?

Mark: If people want to continue to have healthy seafood, they’ll have to look at what they do on land that affects the water. The fisheries I’m involved in are directly tied to land-based practices. Every time it rains, we are flushing contaminants into the water.

Q: So, tell us — what are your favorite seafoods?

Penny: Scallops. And of course, I like crab meat.

Mark: Whatever I have that’s fresh — shrimp, blue crabs, stone crabs, clams and oysters.

Posted September 21, 2011 NOAA logo.