Crisfield fish fry goes swimmingly Event defies problems linked to Pfiesteria

October 05, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

CRISFIELD -- Somewhere between the first ticket sales and the final moments before the trout was breaded, the potato salad mixed and the band tuned, this fishing town's Terrapin Sands Fish Fry became something more than a simple fund-raiser.

It became an act of defiance. A counterattack by people fed up with Pfiesteria piscicida, the microorganism blamed for illnesses in humans and fish, and all the negative publicity it has brought. A weapon for a town exasperated that the problem has tainted, however unfairly, the image of all Chesapeake Bay seafood.

Afraid to eat fish from the bay? Area fishermen brought in more than several thousand trout, rockfish, flounder and croaker caught in the bay this week and cooked them for hundreds.

Worried about Pfiesteria contamination? The reopening of the Pocomoke River on Friday signaled that the river is again healthy, and local residents said that's reason enough to celebrate.

After canceling the event for fear tickets wouldn't sell, the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce last week revived the fund-raiser after some prodding and money from the state.

"We want people to see us shoveling down fish a mile a minute," said Don "Buddy" Shallcross, a candidate for mayor. "We know it's safe to eat. We live here."

By the end of the day, about 600 tickets had been sold -- about 100 more than chamber President Jay Tawes had predicted at the day's start and twice the total of the last chamber fry, in 1995. He had to send for 60 more pounds of fish, he said. "We couldn't have done better than this," Tawes said as the event wrapped up. "This is a perfect vehicle to send a message to the world that there's good fish here."

Doris and Raymond Borowski never gave it a second thought.

They drove to Crisfield from Berlin because they like seafood and they've been to all three fish fries sponsored by the chamber since 1994.

The Pfiesteria problems "didn't bother us a bit," said Raymond Borowski, although the Borowskis said their neighbors had tTC expressed reservations about the fish fry.

The organizers wouldn't hold the event "if they didn't know it's safe," Borowski said. As for long-term image problems for bay seafood, he added: "With a little time, people forget."

Only a few days ago, the fish fry appeared to be a washout.

Fearing that a lack of ticket sales would leave them in the red, chamber members canceled the event two weeks ago. State legislators and Maryland's Department of Tourism strongly urged them to reconsider. The message to the chamber was simple: Canceling the event would only reinforce the public's fears about eating seafood, said Tawes.

As further incentive, George E. Williams, director of Maryland's Office of Tourism Development, stepped in with enough financial support to make the fish fry a no-lose proposition, Tawes said. That meant $1,500 for publicity, the purchase of 150 tickets and a promise to compensate the chamber if it lost money.

Late yesterday, Tawes said he expected a $3,000 profit.

The success did not stop members from being miffed that the governor snubbed the event to attend a reception in Annapolis.

Into the political void stepped a likely candidate to oppose Glendening during the 1998 election campaign, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

"I'll work with anybody who's willing to work with us," said Tawes, the grandson of former Democratic Gov. J. Millard Tawes.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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