After more than 17 years with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Oyster Restoration and Fisheries Scientist Tommy Leggett retired this month to focus on his aquaculture business, Chessie Seafood and Aquafarms. During his tenure at CBF, Tommy was instrumental in both establishing native oyster aquaculture in Virginia as well as implementing restoration programs that have planted tens of millions of oysters into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
"Tommy is one of the first champions of oyster aquaculture, and much of his life's work has been dedicated to ensuring the success of the oyster industry. He has helped to revive a resource that collapsed during his lifetime," says CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon. "It has given me a great sense of pride to work side by side with him. Tommy truly embodies the American spirit. He is a pioneer and entrepreneur. He is a dedicated spouse, father, and grandfather. He lives by the tides, gets his hands dirty, and takes immense pride in his work."
At CBF, Tommy built and ran the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center, which conducted restoration projects throughout Virginia in collaboration with numerous partners and stakeholders. In addition to working on efforts to rebuild the native oyster population, Tommy and his colleagues have helped watermen start their own aquaculture operations, led impactful decision-maker trips on water quality issues, played a key role in defeating a Virginia Senate resolution to support the introduction of the non-native oyster, informed smart and balanced oyster fisheries management and restoration policy, and worked with nearly 400 volunteers on oyster restoration projects.
When Tommy joined CBF in 1998, he already had nearly two decades' experience as a self-employed commercial waterman. He also had the credentials to back-up his on-the-water experience, having earned a master's degree from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary, as well as a bachelor's degree in biology from Old Dominion University. "Tommy has always understood the pressures on the industry and used this knowledge to help formulate informed, empathetic, and well-rounded decisions on oyster restoration," says CBF Virginia Acting Director Christy Everett.
Over the years, Tommy has served on numerous shellfish-related boards, committees, and sub-committees. Those include the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Potomac Fisheries Commission, and the Virginia Marine Products Board. He has also been President and Vice President of the Working Watermen's Association, Vice President of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, and held memberships at the Virginia Seafood Council, the Virginia Shellfish Growers Association, and the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association.
Tommy never shied away from sharing his knowledge with others, and has been a mentor, colleague, and friend to so many across the Chesapeake watershed. We wish him the best as he continues his day-to-day oyster farming work.
--Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator