Misgivings in the marketplace Pfiesteria: Grocers do a disservice by feeding hysteria over local seafood that is safe.

September 26, 1997

GROCERY STORES refusing to carry Chesapeake seafood because of Pfiesteria fear aren't helping matters.

Reducing stocks of local seafood if buyers are not buying is understandable. But it is self-serving and irresponsible to refuse to stock bay products when scientists -- including the foremost expert on the Pfiesteria microbe -- say it is perfectly safe to eat a healthy-looking fish, crab or oyster. Some groceries have gone so far as to post signs saying they no longer buy Maryland seafood, which amounts to announcing, ''Maryland seafood is unsafe.''

These businesses have a civic responsibility. They have an obligation not to feed a needless panic that is harming watermen and others employed by the seafood industry. Merely continuing to display some Maryland seafood, as Metro Food Markets admirably is doing, serves as a vote of confidence in bay $H products. Their willingness to vouch for Maryland seafood is as important in allaying fears as the government's -- perhaps more so.

During Pfiesteria outbreaks here and in North Carolina, where Pfiesteria has been killing fish for a decade, there have been no reports of seafood-borne human illness.

Pfiesteria is not an infectious disease. It is a usually harmless algae-like organism that, for reasons scientists still do not fully understand, sometimes emits a poison. Fish that have been exposed die or develop ugly sores quickly, often within minutes. That means no fish affected by Pfiesteria will show up in a grocer's window. Watermen weed out dead fish, Pfiesteria or not.

If a fish looks healthy, it has not been exposed. Pfiestera cannot hide within a fish. The common-sense rule about seafood and other meat products still applies: If it looks or smells bad, don't eat it. Otherwise, consider it safe.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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