Glendening stepping up seafood-safety effort Funding will double for marketing campaign

September 27, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Frank Roylance contributed to this article.

The Glendening administration said yesterday that it will more than double its funding of a marketing campaign intended to reassure Pfiesteria-wary Marylanders about the safety of Chesapeake Bay seafood.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he is setting aside $500,000 for the campaign because "we must do more to increase consumer confidence" in Maryland seafood.

The money will be a "deficiency appropriation," meaning the governor may spend the money now and ask the General Assembly for approval in January. It is in addition to the $136,957 provided in the fiscal 1998 budget for seafood marketing. Previously, the administration had committed an extra $200,000 to an emergency campaign to counter a sharp drop in sales of Maryland seafood.

Seafood dealers have said that consumers have been alarmed by heavy media coverage of a series of toxic Pfiesteria outbreaks in Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

The outbreaks of the microorganism prompted Glendening to order the closing of three Maryland waterways after a medical team found evidence that exposure to Pfiesteria toxins in water might be causing human illness.

"None of the fish, shellfish or crabs that is on the market comes from the channels we have closed," Glendening said in a written statement. "On the contrary, our seafood is delicious, fresh and nutritious and the envy of people around the world."

Scientists attending a conference on ocean resources in Baltimore yesterday added their voices to those trying to reassure the public about the safety of Chesapeake seafood.

"The public does not have to be afraid. The fish are healthy," said Kevin Sellner, who is coordinating studies of harmful algae blooms for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sellner said the Food and Drug Administration's tests of fish and shellfish taken from the affected rivers have found no toxins. The tested fish had not "caught" anything from the fish that were sickened and "are perfectly fine to eat," he said.

Yonathan Zohar, who directs research at the University of Maryland's Center of Marine Biotechnology at the Columbus Center, agreed. "The Chesapeake is not infected," he said.

The decision to step up the marketing campaign is the latest in a series of steps that Glendening has taken to bolster the state's seafood industry, whose annual impact on the Maryland economy has been estimated at $134 million.

Thursday, the governor spent much of the day vouching for the safety of the bay's seafood in testimony before Congress and at a rockfish lunch in Cambridge with members of his Cabinet. Between events, he found time to persuade three supermarket chains that had dropped some or all Maryland seafood to resume offering it.

Suzie Robertson, a seafood retailer in Shady Side, said she was "ecstatic" about the increased funding but didn't expect instant results. "I doubt if it'll be a quick fix on this, because public perception is not swayed so easily in the other direction," said Robertson, who also does some commercial fishing. She said that over the long term she expects the marketing campaign to be "greatly beneficial."

In addition to the increased funding, the administration also announced details of its marketing strategy. The state's campaign will include ads on television and in newspapers and trade publications.

Noreen Eberly, a seafood marketing specialist at the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the state will begin running one ad on WBAL (Channel 11) in Baltimore Monday. Because it was produced at WBAL, it can be run only on that station, she said.

Eberly said the Baltimore advertising agency W. B. Doner & Co. is developing a campaign for general use. She said her department is trying to get ads on the air within two weeks.

The state will also distribute brochures for fishermen, tourists and consumers explaining the Pfiesteria problem. As part of the campaign, Glendening is designating October Maryland Seafood Month.

The governor will continue to make appearances at public events on behalf of Maryland seafood, including the Crisfield Fishing Tournament this weekend and the Crisfield Fish Fry next weekend. In addition, the state will circulate letters from Glendening and the state health secretary, Martin P. Wasserman, attesting to the safety of Maryland seafood.

"The seafood you buy at the grocery store and order in restaurants is safe to eat," the Wasserman letter says. "I will stake my professional credibility on this point."

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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