Bay is safe, governor says Fishing: The governor hits the Chesapeake Bay, seeking to prove that it's still safe for fishing. But he fails to catch anything.

September 02, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Fish in the Chesapeake Bay are perfectly safe to eat, Maryland's governor says. He would eat one himself.

If he could catch one, that is. Determined to quell fears that a toxic microorganism is killing fish and threatening humans beyond the Pocomoke River, Gov. Parris N. Glendening took to the Chesapeake Bay yesterday with determination. He said he wouldn't expect people to believe it was safe to fish there if he wasn't willing to do it himself.

That's why Glendening and wife Frances Hughes Glendening cheerfully did violence to a stack of mammoth male crabs, caught near St. Michaels, as perplexed diners at Buddy's Crabs & Ribs in Annapolis watched reporters watch them.

They clambered onto a charter fishing boat called "Beaudacious" with the media in tow, flinching not a bit when bay water sloshed aboard.

The state's first couple were responding to reports last week that confirmed a link between the Pocomoke fish lesions -- thought to be caused by Pfiesteria piscicida -- and human ills. Thirteen people exposed to the water have suffered rashes and TC temporary memory loss, and thousands of fish have died. Meanwhile, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has heard from anglers elsewhere around the bay who report catching fish with very similar sores.

State officials say that in extensive monitoring of fish around the bay, they have found nothing abnormal. Of 80,000 fish pulled from the water this summer by state biologists, only six had lesions, and those could have been caused by natural parasites, said W. Peter Jensen, Maryland's tidal fisheries director.

Glendening, who enjoys frequent fishing outings with his son, Raymond, said he has taken the Pocomoke problem very seriously and is monitoring it "by the hour."

"At the same time, we had to aggressively get the message across that there is no danger in the Chesapeake Bay," the governor said yesterday. "The message is very straightforward. I wouldn't say that if I weren't prepared to fish in it myself.

"I'm hoping to catch a couple nice rockfish and we'll go home and eat them ourselves."

With that, it was showtime.

Buddy Harrison Jr., who was captain on the boat, and his son, Bud, set six lines around "Beaudacious" with the governor's help. Then they waited.

"Cue the fish!" called a cameraman.

And waited.

"Couple of the members of the press suggested if they don't bite, I'm supposed to bite you," said Mrs. Glendening to the governor.

And waited.

As some of the reporters prepared to leave the boat, Glendening -- wanting to make his point -- wrapped his bare hands around a huge rockfish, one of four caught earlier in the day on the boat. "They caught them this morning. Real big rockfish, like people have been catching all over the bay," he said, smiling. "No problem whatsoever."

As the camera crews filmed from another boat, Glendening gamely held on to one of the lines.

Then he went back to waiting.

"We've gone out 100 times, and we've never come back without anything," the governor said, shaking his head. "I am sure that if Raymond hears we were out here and didn't catch any fish, he'll say it's because he wasn't here."

Could the governor, maybe, take home some of the Harrisons' rockfish for dinner to demonstrate his point?

"I would," Glendening said pensively. "But it's not good etiquette to take someone else's fish. But I would eat 'em."

Glendening spokeswoman Judi Scioli put the fishlessness down to the lateness of the hour. "If we didn't have the Greenbelt parade, we would have caught those fish," she said.

Still, the governor kept trying. The Harrisons pulled up to another spot, directly below the Bay Bridge. The Glendenings changed boats and fishing methods, with the governor casting his own line this time, choosing his spot with care.

"It's our last, desperate effort to revive my reputation," Glendening said jokingly.

No luck. Or, at least, no fish.

But state officials felt the governor's message came through nonetheless.

"Trying to personalize the safety is what he's trying to do," said Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "If you contain the public's concern, you have to give them a truthful message and help them deal with what it is. The public has a right to know."

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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