Seafood hysteria isn't the fault of the grocersMy husband...


October 04, 1997

Seafood hysteria isn't the fault of the grocers

My husband and I run a small seafood business in Baltimore County, in which we have invested our life savings. Our sales have dropped 30 percent since the Pfiesteria crisis hit this summer, and we are in danger of losing the business as a result. Your Sept. 26 editorial, which starts by blaming grocers for spreading the panic, leaves us speechless.

Grocers cannot afford to purchase food which consumers reject. Metro Food Markets deserves credit for carrying Maryland rockfish, but we suspect that most of it will end up in the garbage. Customers today are reluctant to buy any seafood, regardless of origin, because they are afraid of the whole food category.

Virtually every media article dealing with the Pfiesteria crisis has dwelled extensively on the gruesome lesions and the problems resulting from exposure to the water. Only in small print, such as in the latter half of your editorial, is it mentioned that no one has become ill from eating properly prepared fish.

When this problem surfaced in North Carolina last summer, there was little media attention to the issue and the market impact, both local and distant, was minimal. The Sun and the local television and radio stations have played a significant role in spreading the panic.

It is high time that the media take on the task of educating consumers about seafood safety with the same relish as they have showed in describing the problem. That means shouting on the front page, ''Seafood is safe!'' not burying the message in the second half of an editorial.

Patricia K. Murphy


Why the public doesn't believe seafood is safe

I was surprised to read that Gov. Parris N. Glendening was frustrated at the public response to purchasing fish from the Chesa-peake Bay. He seems annoyed that even after reassurances from various government authorities no one is buying it (literally).

Perhaps this is a positive note. Maybe the public doesn't believe everything they're told any more. After all, the FDA did approve diet pills that now may result in heart valve damage to millions of patients. Locally, we are told that the two new reappointments of judges will be a good thing, but we were told that about Judges Robert E. Cahill and Thomas J. Bollinger also. Perhaps Mr. Glendening should realize that more people just don't believe what they are told by those in policy and profit-making positions because the ''facts'' they use often are not based on truth.

Paulette Tunston

Bel Air

Media blew Pfiesteria out of proportion

The need for research to attempt to reverse the damage of Pfiesteria, the latest of nature's riddles, is without question.

But to blow it completely out of proportion with modern media, for any purpose, is absolutely criminal.

The Sun (Sept. 21) had over three pages of coverage of this phenomenon, which has but recently been recorded in Maryland. To one who reads well, the clarifying phrases were abundant:

''Research suggests a strong link;'' ''tentatively links fish kills;'' ''may be responsible for rashes, etc.;'' ''most likely caused skin lesions;'' ''health problems possibly related to;'' ''illness possibly linked.''

All of these statements were contained within just one article.

Strangely lacking was adequate reference to the presentation given to the Chesapeake Bay Commission on Sept. 12, at which a Sun reporter was present.

At the meeting, the director of Virginia's Research and Advisory Services of the Marine Institute clearly stated that these fish with lesions (menhaden) have periodically been recorded since at least 1984.

He told us that when monitoring their rivers they seined in shorts and tennis shoes. Both he and their state epidemiologist reported that there were no water exposure illnesses of any kind directly attributable to ''Pfiesteria exposure'' under normal circumstances.

The epidemiologist referred to a broad study done by a graduate student with adequate control groups, who had no water-based activity exposure, that fully explained all such questionable symptoms.

The only known unquestionable illnesses to date were incurred when the scientist and her assistant worked with greatly enhanced samples in laboratory conditions without safety precautions.

This same scientist emphasized that the river in which he first recorded fish lesions on menhaden was the Rappahannock, which has a very low nutrient load.

So much for jumping to conclusions.

A fact that should be emphasized is that menhaden are not edible fish but are used for fish-meal and are frail fish often subject to mass die-offs under adverse conditions, even when other fish are not affected.

At the Bi-State Blue Crab Study Committee meeting that afternoon, we had an update on the ''Submerged Aquatic Vegetation'' (SAV) monitoring of the bay area. The SAV, or grass beds, are nursery areas for much of the bay's life chain and their increase or decline is carefully watched.

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