Deborah Pratt, seen here competing at the 2022 U.S. Oyster Shucking Championship. Photo courtesy of George Hurlburt

Oyster Shucking “Superstar” Honored in Va. State Legislature

The pride of Virginia’s competitive oyster shucking scene, the nationally-recognized Deborah Pratt, was honored this legislative session for her contributions to the oyster industry.

The Virginia House of Delegates unanimously approved House Resolution 320 in February honoring Deborah Pratt for a life-time of shucking oysters and representing the Virginia seafood industry as a world class oyster shucker.

Virginia State delegate Keith Hodges presented the resolution for approval on the house floor as he introduced Pratt who was standing in the balcony. He introduced her has a “Super Star of Oyster Shuckers” and an icon in the oyster shucking world.

Pratt follows a long tradition of oyster shucking that has been evolving since the 19th century. Baltimore and Maryland shucking houses used European immigrants as shuckers. Through the 19th and early 20th centuries African American men shucked in the oyster stalls of Virginia shucking houses. Sometime in the early to mid-20th century, African American women began to take over the rank and file of Virginia oyster shuckers.    

Pratt grew-up in Middlesex County on the banks of the Rappahannock River near some of the most fertile oyster grounds in the United States. Her father, mother and sister were all professional shuckers. Her father and mother met in a shucking house. She first learned to shuck oysters by watching her sister Clementine Macon open oysters in their backyard. 

Pratt has represented the State of Virginia and Urbanna Oyster Festival numerous times at the U. S. Oyster Festival’s national oyster shucking competition in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

She has also represented the United States four times at the Oyster Shucking World Championship in Galway, Ireland. She finished second in the world in 1997 and third in 1994. She is one of only two Virginia women shuckers to ever place in the top three at the international world competition. The only other Virginian to place in the world title competition in Ireland was Sara Hammond, who finished third in 1984.

Seafood industry representatives went with Deborah Pratt to Richmond where she was honored for her world-class shucking. From left, J. C. Hudgins, president of the Virginia Watermen’s Association; Kim Huskey of the Virginia Seafood Council; Pratt; Mike Oesterling, Executive Director of the Virginia Shellfish Association; Mike Hutt, Executive Director of the Virginia Marine Products Board; and Tolar Nolley, owner of Oysters For Life. (Contributed photo)

Pratt was the cover girl for several years for the “Virginia is For Lovers” campaign where her photo was taken riding an oyster to promote state tourism.

Hodges told Virginia lawmakers that Pratt and her sister Clementine can shuck two dozen oysters each in less than three minutes and that is about 7.5 seconds for an oyster.  “You cannot eat them that fast,” said Hodges, to laughter on the House floor.

Hodges said Pratt has been a star at the annual Richmond Folklife Festival in the Oyster Smackdown portion of the festival and it has become one of the biggest draws at the event.

At the conclusion, Pratt received an unanimous vote from House delegates and a standing ovation from state representatives from across Virginia.

-Larry Chowning