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Ocean City

Voices of the Coastal Bays – Skilligalee Seafood

This article is adapted from articles originally written by Cailyn Joseph.

While Ocean City (OC) is loved by locals and visitors alike for its decadent seafood, the entire array of OC’s seafood often goes unnoticed and underappreciated. Most associate lobster with the chilly waters of New England rather than the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. However, miles off the Ocean City beach, a bounty of lobster dwells in the depths. No one knows this better than Sonny Gwin, owner of Skilligalee Seafood. Sonny is a dedicated waterman who ensures the local community gets to experience the best seafood OC has to offer – especially the little-known lobsters. Sonny’s fishing career stemmed from his undeniable love for the water. Born in Virginia Beach, he grew up boating, surfing, and sportfishing with his grandfather. 

Skilligalee’s owner Sonny Gwin stands with his crab pots. Photo Credit: Zach Garmoe

He bought his very own boat, the Skilligalee, a 1974 lobster boat. When Sonny finally saw the boat with his own eyes, he bought it on the spot. The first Skilligalee only lasted a few years, but even today you can find Sonny in the Harbor on his second Skilligalee. Their current bread and butter is Black Sea Bass and lobster – and they do it all with pots. Lobster and sea bass pots are very similar to the crab pots commonly found throughout the Coastal Bays. They are cage-like devices with openings that lead to a chamber that is inescapable once entered. They have hatches that open during harvesting, weights to anchor them to the ocean floor, and small openings that act as an escape route for smaller, immature fish. Pots, just like any other fishing method, require a great amount of preparation to get ready for the fishing season. 

Crew of the Skilligalee working on their boat. Photo Credit: Zach Garmoe

For Sonny, preparation begins in January for a late March start. Prep is tedious, as every pot must be cleaned and assessed for usability. While taking care of his existing pots, he also must be sure to construct new ones to replace ones that were broken or lost in the previous season. A look into his backyard reveals his extensive pot collection. Neatly stacked and organized, 1300 pots await their submergence into the waters off Ocean City. Final touches include replacing clasps and patching up holes. “You want to make sure everything is in good condition when you are ready to start fishing because you don’t want to be fixing anything out on the water.” Sonny will check his pots consistently every seven to ten days throughout the season. He usually leaves them out until late December, but this year he hopes to bring them all in by Thanksgiving. “You put them out, blink your eyes, and then it’s time to bring them back home.” Sonny has pots for both offshore and inshore sites. Though lobsters are typically more offshore, Sonny finds that there is often overlap in what he gets at each site. Along with sea bass and lobster, Sonny also often brings up octopus, Jonah crab, and tilefish. 

Owner Sonny Gwin butchering fish from his boat Skilligalee. Photo Credit: Zach Garmoe

Sonny’s deep passion for fishing shows through his words and his hard work to keep the industry alive. He believes a big misconception that the public has about the commercial fishing industry is that “we [commercial fishermen] are out there killing all the fish.” The United States has some of the most regulated fisheries in the world, and fishermen have to be very careful that they follow all regulations precisely. When purchasing local seafood, you can be sure that the purchase is directly contributing to a healthy fishery and a hard-working fisher. If you want to support Sonny, you can find his boat, which is white with large letters spelling out SKILLIGALEE in the commercial harbor in West Ocean City. He also has a seafood stand on Route 50 across from Stephen Decatur High School. Loyal Skilligalee Seafood customers can stay in the loop by subscribing to their email chain, text chain, or social media pages which are constantly updated with the latest products. In the future, Sonny hopes that he can open a more permanent storefront and maybe even go to some local farmer’s markets! Sonny hopes that his stories and the Voices of the Coastal Bays project encourage people to not only buy his seafood but also support his fellow fishermen and local seafood as a whole.

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