Seafood sales rebound in Md. But some on Shore still feeling effects of Pfiesteria scare


January 15, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Seafood sales are bouncing back from last summer's Pfiesteria scare that cost some wholesalers and retailers up to 80 percent of their business, according to preliminary results of a state survey.

"For the state as a whole, seafood sales appear to be close to where they were this time last year," Bradley Powers, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said yesterday.

Not all regions of the state have shared equally in the recovery, according to Powers.

Retailers on the Lower Eastern Shore, where the Pfiesteria outbreak forced the closing of parts of three rivers, are reporting that business is still off 15 percent to 25 percent.

Powers stressed that the survey results are "extremely preliminary" and based on the return of only 30 confidential surveys mailed to 361 seafood dealers in the state.

"The industry is slowly coming back," Powers said, "but, as of November, sales are still slightly below where they were in 1996."

Some retailers are very pleased with the rebound.

"My fish sales are up 25 percent in recent months," said Audrey Moree, president of Bay Island Seafood at the corner of West Pratt and Monroe streets. "My store is totally back."

Moree said customers are no longer asking about fish kills and Pfiesteria. "It's as if everyone has forgotten about it," he said.

Johnny Shockley, co-owner of Chesapeake Treasures, a seafood retailer in Salisbury, said that in recent weeks he has had customers who have told him that they were buying fish for the first time since the Pfiesteria scare.

The return of old customers is helping business, but Shockley said sales are still 5 percent below last year's level despite picking up some extra volume as the result of a nearby competitor's closing for the winter.

The state's $400 million-a-year seafood industry was in serious trouble last year, Powers told a meeting of the Maryland Agricultural Commission, an advisory group to the state Department of Agriculture.

He said some seafood dealers were reporting business off 80 percent during the height of the Pfiesteria scare.

Some grocery chains, including Giant Food Inc., Valu Foods and Graul's, quit stocking rockfish and some other bay seafoods until Gov. Parris N. Glendening intervened.

Barry F. Scher, spokesman for Giant, the state's largest grocery chain with 175 stores, said sales of seafood, including rockfish, have not only bounced back but they are booming.

Scher said sales of "salmon, catfish, rainbow trout and rockfish are way above normal."

He attributes the increased sales activity to several factors: less concern about the safety of eating seafood and recent medical research linking a weekly serving of fish to lower rates of sudden cardiac death.

People who eat fish at least once a week had a 52 percent lower risk of sudden death than those who ate it less than once a month, according to a study by Dr. Christine Albert, an electro-physiologist at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Shockley, the Salisbury seafood market owner, credited the state's $500,000 advertising blitz stressing the safety of state seafood with much of the industry's recovery. "People kept hearing it over and over," he said of the state-funded radio campaign, "and eventually they concluded it must be OK."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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