Eastport seamen upbeat Watermen celebrate new processing plant

May 18, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

To the casual observer, the second annual festival to celebrate Annapolis' watermen meant live music and fresh crab cakes.

But to the people whose job it is to land the catch of the day for area restaurants, the spring fling represented a new beginning for the fishing industry in Eastport.

"It means the strength of the maritime business," said Bob Slawson, president of the Eastport Civic Association, as he watched the festival Saturday afternoon. "It's really nice to have another seafood market open."

"I'm glad to see the restoration of the seafood industry in Back Creek," said Bancroft Foley, who brought his 2-year-old daughter, Genesis, to the waterfront festival. "It is much better then a 40-foot office building."

The Maryland Watermen's Cooperative is more than a store. For the first time since 1987, Annapolis has a fish processing plant, which is scheduled to open in three weeks.

"This is a real benefit for all the fishermen who have been having problems finding a market," said Beth Duty, a member of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

The city's last seafood processing plant, the McNasby Oyster Co., closed after a century of business in Eastport. The new cooperative is at the old McNasby building. But the financing for the 54 co-op members has been a source of controversy for years.

The project, which includes a $300,000 waterfront park and museum, cost $1.3 million, paid for by $160,000 in city funds and a mix of county and state grants and loans.

Detractors complain that a government should not subsidize a private business. During its 2 1/2 -year history, the project has been plagued by delays and extra expenses to meet unanticipated health regulations, all of which have heightened objections.

But Saturday, Doug Orr, manager of the co-op, shot back. "We are tenants," he said, adding that the cooperative has a lease with Annapolis and, "like any other tenant," is responsible for fixing the building before it is rented.

He said the cost to the water men while the repair work was being done amounted to more than $250,000. That includes wages lost because the lack of a processing facility meant only fresh fish could be sold. Many fish went to waste, and out-of-pocket money was used for supplies.

"We are tickled to death for what the city has done for us," Orr said. "But we are not a charity case. All the critics say the city is in the seafood business. We pay rent, we pay insurance and we suffer losses. The community has the wrong impression of what we're all about."

But for the people who came to the festival, politics was far from their minds. There was music and dancing and fresh food and, of course, fish.

Over at the Barge House Museum, Peg Wallace, chairwoman of the Eastport Historical Society, was busy showing off the converted barge house. Inside the small home overlooking Back Creek are replicas of wooden yachts and historic photos of the original settlers of Eastport.

"Because of its industry, all of Eastport was maritime-oriented," Wallace said. "But people did everything in Eastport."

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