By Doug Gansler

Star Democrat Op-Ed: Maryland’s seafood industry

Maryland’s seafood harvesting industry is an indispensable part of our state’s economy, history and culture. Despite steep economic and ecological challenges, it remains the cornerstone of a hospitality sector that sustains nearly 300,000 jobs in Maryland each year. It is also physically demanding work, with modest wages, no health care or retirement benefits, and rising operational expenses. Our state’s policymakers must be working collaboratively to provide financial incentives for those who continue to work in this highly skilled and honorable profession, so that it remains a viable way of life for future generations.

Recently, there has been a public discussion about phasing out Maryland’s wild oyster harvesting industry in favor of an exclusive commitment to aquaculture. This idea and others like it are, respectfully, preposterous. At a time when we are still struggling to financially recover from the COVID pandemic, it would be wrong to deprive more than 2,500 hard-working Marylanders of the only livelihoods they have ever known, while jeopardizing those sectors that support the seafood harvesting industry, and imposing even higher front-end costs on Maryland’s restaurants and taverns.

In that spirit, I am a strong supporter of both the traditional seafood harvesting industry and our emerging aquaculture industry. In an effort to build our state’s aquaculture program, my “Green Maryland” initiative calls for the elimination of the $1,500 cap on the Oyster Shell Recycling Tax Credit, and doubling of the per bushel tax credit from $5 to $10.

Finally, I am deeply concerned that twice in less than one month, the State of Maryland has had to shut down shellfish harvesting in St. Mary’s County due to sewage overflow. This is a direct consequence of catastrophic regulatory and policy failures on the part of state officials, and an inevitable outcome of the environmental conditions imposed by climate change. To prevent further healthy and safety calamities of this nature, we must finally get serious about the fight to protect our state from the effects of climate change. My Green Maryland plan calls for much stronger regulation and oversight of aging water and sewer systems, as well as policies – including a five-year moratorium on development within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area – that eliminate sprawl development and contamination of our rivers and creeks.

It will take a comprehensive effort from policymakers to ensure the long-term survival and stability of our seafood harvesting industry. It is one that I will lead as Maryland’s next Governor. Our economy, environment and quality of life will benefit as a result of our shared effort.

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