Revitalizing Maritime Heritage: Minorities in Aquaculture’s (MIA) Pioneering Program for the Next Generation of African American Commercial Captains

MIA’s Program, Minorities on Course, Provides Support for the Next Generation of Black Maritime Captains

Minorities in Aquaculture (MIA), a non-profit organization founded by Chestertown native Imani Black in July 2020, has been making waves in the aquaculture industry by offering the underrepresented demographics, specifically women of color, invaluable professional development opportunities, hands-on job experiences, and access to critical maritime technical skills. One of its flagship programs, Minorities on Course (MOC), launched in 2021, is dedicated to empowering the next generation of African Americans who aspire to build a maritime career of various kinds by providing scholarships, and impactful maritime instruction to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Captain’s License and other applicable maritime certifications.

The number of Black commercial captains has declined significantly during the past decade as older captains leave the industry without a younger generation in place to take the helm. A recent Chesapeake Quarterly report estimated only 10 remaining black headboat captains are operating out of Kent Narrows, with more than half of the captains over 70 years old. The MOC Program aims to reverse the declining number of licensed Black headboat captains on the Chesapeake Bay while alleviating historical barriers by covering instructional course costs and providing essential knowledge and practical experience. Since the inaugural year, MIA has graduated 11 African American men and women with their USCG 100-ton Captain’s License while also overhauling the program's structure, forging new partnerships, and enhancing resources to boost maritime engagement within the Chesapeake Bay.

"This program is not just about getting more Black people on the water,” said Imani Black, Founder and CEO of Minorities in Aquaculture. “This is about career development skills and honoring the Chesapeake’s traditional commercial fisheries legacy through actively preserving the Black maritime presence and heritage as an avenue to do that. We aim to equip and amplify the next generation of African American watermen, boat captains, and industry influencers with the tools to forge sustainable careers on their own terms while honoring the legacy of the influential maritime leaders, especially those from historic Black fishing communities who have made the Chesapeake Bay a cherished natural resource and thriving commercial fisheries that we all known and love today.”

“Living on the Chesapeake Bay and observing the watermen, I have taken great interest in being on the water,” said Rupert Walters, 2022 Cohort Participant and 100-ton Master Captain. “I have also taken notice of the dwindling population of minorities on the Bay and thought this was the time to further my interest and pursue my passion.”

In 2024, MIA has added new MOC partners to achieve their mission by collaborating with esteemed maritime professionals like Captain Michael McQueen, owner of Reel Altitude Fishing Charter and son to Captain Sonny McQueen of Solomon’s Island, the oldest living Black captain on the Chesapeake Bay today, Captain Bill Tynall of R&D Boat Supply in Cambridge, MD, Mahogany Yacht Charters, a Black female-owned luxury charter business in Washington, D.C. These partnerships additionally extend to field gear and in-kind sponsorships with business such as XTRATUF Boot Company and The Jetty Rock Foundation to provide the necessary supplies to participants among all MIA programs. These new alliances complement ongoing partnerships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), providing program participants access to CBF educational vessels to obtain their USCG-required sea time and well-rounded maritime education.

“Making a career on the water shouldn’t be limited to those with family or personal connections to people already working on the Bay,” said Tom Ackerman, CBF’s Vice President of Education. “At CBF, we know that to protect the Chesapeake Bay, we must ensure everyone can access and enjoy it, whether they come from the city, the suburbs, or the countryside. Growing a diverse workforce on the water to match the diversity of the watershed will ensure that happens. We're proud to partner with Minorities In Aquaculture and Founder Imani Black on this effort to train a diverse new generation of Chesapeake Bay captains.”

MIA’s primary functions are to bridge engagement, education, and advocacy between the demographics it serves and the workforce development of the global aquaculture and maritime industries. Alongside the MOC Program, MIA also offers an aquaculture internship program throughout the year, partnering with over 30 businesses, institutions, and operations nationwide to foster future industry professionals with the ultimate goal of continually cultivating a motivated network of over 400 members globally through mentoring, job boards, and networking opportunities.

Looking ahead, Minorities In Aquaculture is preparing for its third cohort of Minorites On Course participants this Fall 2024, raising $25,000 to support six new commercial Black captains on the Chesapeake Bay. Contributions come in many forms, from financial donations to essential gear, with companies like XTRATUF and Jetty Rock already providing significant support.

For more information on how to contribute, become a program participant and/or support Minorities In Aquaculture further as an organization, please visit the Minorities In Aquaculture website and/or contact the MIA team at [email protected].


Valerie Keefer

Maryland Communications & Media Relations Manager, CBF

[email protected]

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