OCEAN CITY — After backlash from local, state and federal leaders opposing the proposed designation of the Baltimore Canyon as an Urban National Marine Sanctuary, National Aquarium officials late last week responded with a commentary outlining a willingness to compromise on the proposal or even withdraw it altogether.
In October, National Aquarium officials announced they were seeking an Urban National Marine Sanctuary designation for the Baltimore Canyon, a vast 28-mile long and five-mile wide submarine canyon off the coast of Ocean City that lies at the center of the resort’s multi-million fishing industry. According to the National Aquarium’s petition drive, a designation of the nation’s first Urban National Marine Sanctuary for the Baltimore Canyon “presents a unique opportunity to connect an urban population to the ecological treasure using cutting edge deep sea exploration technology.”
The National Aquarium’s announcement in October was met with fears from the resort’s area’s multi-million fishing industry, whose representatives fear a sanctuary designation would ultimately limit, restrict or perhaps prohibit recreational and commercial fishing in the canyon. In the weeks since, the resort’s area’s delegation in Annapolis, including State Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, for example, have been working with local fishing industry leaders and other stakeholders in making known their concerns over the proposed designation.
In response to the concerns, National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli issued a statement of his own in the form of an open letter in an attempt to clear up the misconceptions.
“With good intentions, we reached out to some members of Ocean City’s fishing and recreation community to discuss the idea and hear their views,” the letter reads. “Regrettably, I believe our efforts fell short and numerous leaders have since expressed strong concerns about the wisdom of such a designation.”
Racanelli’s letter attempts to clarify the apparent miscommunication and allay the concerns and fears of the local fishing community.
“I take full responsibility for this miscommunication and, as a former commercial fisherman myself, want to stress three important points to those in the fishing community who have concerns,” the letter reads. “We hear you, we want only what’s best for Maryland and stand ready to work with you to figure out how to best meet the important goal of preserving fragile treasures like the Baltimore Canyon.”
Racanelli’s letter assures the fishing community and local leaders they will continue to have a seat at the table going forward.
“Your concerns are vital to any discussion about issues that affect the health of our offshore waters,” the letter reads. “In fact, they are central to this conversation. If the communities of the Eastern Shore feel a national marine sanctuary is not the right idea, we have little interest in pursuing such a course. We will only seek solutions that have the support and backing of the entire community and its leaders. For the record, sanctuary or not, we would gladly join our partners in the fishing and recreation industries to resist any attempts to establish prohibitive restrictions on their livelihoods.”
Racenelli’s letter also assures local leadership and representatives of the fishing community the National Aquarium would consider withdrawing the proposal if concerns are not answered adequately.
“Ultimately, we all want the same thing: clean, safe, fishable waters for ourselves, our children and grandchildren,” the letter reads. “As I’ve said, the National Aquarium would never support any new restrictions or limitations on current activities in the waters of the canyon, such as recreational and commercial fishing, boating, diving and other marine tourism activities. I look forward to meeting and engaging with anyone who has concerns about this well-intentioned proposal. If, in fact, we come to agreement that a national marine sanctuary is not the best way forward, I will ask that our application be withdrawn.”
Two weeks ago, the Mayor and Council fired off a letter opposing the designation to Governor Larry Hogan and state leaders.
“The Town of Ocean City earned the title ‘White Marlin Capital of the World’ in 1939 and has retained that distinction due to the impressive offshore experiences since the Inlet was created in 1933,” the Mayor and Council’s letter reads. “The only way to guarantee that regulations will not be adopted that could limit, restrict or prohibit fishing within the Baltimore Canyon is to either prevent the petition from being filed or ensure that it is ultimately denied by the Secretary of Commerce. Considering the very possible adverse impact to Ocean City’s economy, please utilize all available resources to prevent this designation from occurring.”
Last week, a coalition of U.S. Congressmen representing mid-Atlantic states fired off a similar letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan expressing serious concern with the proposal and calling into question its legality.
“National Marine Sanctuaries do not contain any legal protections for the fishermen who have been fishing the waters surrounding sanctuaries for decades,” the letter reads. “The sanctuary management plan supersedes any existing regulations. Further, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act does not contain any provisions that sanctuaries must use science-based management. This would allow the sanctuary managers to prohibit fishing in sanctuaries without ever having to scientifically justify the fishing ban.”