‘Willbilly Memorial Reef’ Project Planning Underway

OCEAN CITY — While still in the early planning stages, a lasting tribute in the form of an artificial reef is underway for a popular local fisherman who perished in a single-vehicle accident on Dec. 15.

William Joseph Hathaway, 36, of Berlin, perished in a single-vehicle accident on Old Ocean City Road just west of Richardson Road in Wicomico County just after 4 p.m. on Saturday. Hathaway, the affable mate on the Foolish Pleasures out of the Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City, was wildly popular in the resort fishing community.

Tragically, Hathaway leaves behind an infant daughter and wife, a Stephen Decatur High School teacher. His fishing prowess was legendary and he appeared on the popular National Geographic Channel reality show “Wicked Tuna” along with his captain and other crew members on the Foolish Pleasure. More importantly, Hathaway, or “Willbilly” as he was known, was just a genuine nice guy and who always garnered smiles from those around him.

Almost immediately after the tragic news of Hathaway’s passing began to spread, a fundraising effort was launched to help his wife and infant child and that effort resulted in over $91,000 collected. This week, Hathaway’s friends and colleagues in the fishing communities in both Ocean City and North Carolina launched an effort to create a lasting tribute to Hathaway in the form of an artificial reef.

Called the Willbilly Memorial Reef Project, the effort is being spearheaded by angler Chris Mickey and the North Carolina fishing community in conjunction with the fishing community in Ocean City. Mickey has created a Go Fund Me page and a Facebook page for the artificial reef project in Hathaway’s name.

“Our mission is to create a healthy habitat for aquatic life much like the Captain Greg Mickey Memorial Reef that was created in 2007 near the Frying Pan Tower off the coast of North Carolina,” the statement reads. “Once again, we aim at establishing a living tribute to the man whose life was dedicated to the open ocean- Captain William ‘Willbilly’ Hathaway.”

The plan involves developing an artificial reef site either off the coast of Ocean City or in North Carolina, where Hathaway was equally popular. The concept is to acquire a decommissioned vessel and rename it the “Captain Willbilly” before sending it to the ocean floor. The project will likely require some state approvals for the final site along with mediation work to strip the vessel of fuels and other pollutants.

“When all is complete, the new artificial reef will become an everlasting memorial that will attract all kinds of life above and below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean,” the statement reads. “Everyone who knew William knows how much the ocean meant to him and I cannot think of a better way to honor his life than to create a place that will become for many ocean species a place they call home.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.