The proverbial “us versus them” mentality is typically commonplace among recreational and commercial fishermen. On at least one matter – the accessibility of the ocean through the Inlet – these factions appear to be on the same page.
Over the last 30-plus years, the amount of fish brought into the commercial harbor in West Ocean City has plummeted from 24.5 million pounds in 1985 to under five million pounds last year. That’s a remarkable 80 percent drop for the commercial fishing industry. That’s due to a number of commercial fishing boats have to seek ports elsewhere, and the main reason cited over the years has been the inconsistency with the depth of the Inlet. On more than one occasion, vessels have been essentially stranded off the coast because they can’t get through the Inlet at a certain time with a large load of fish or other seafood.
Although some of that catch reduction is due to simple attrition within the industry unrelated to local matters, a bulk of it is directly linked to the ongoing challenges with chronic shoaling in the Inlet and near the mouth of the harbor.
The tone of the concerns expressed in Staff Writer Charlene Sharpe’s in-depth account of the issues facing commercial and recreational fishermen today is much different than in the past. There is oftentimes a major divide between these two sides when it comes to fishing quotas and related issues, but all of those concerns are moot if issues continue to arise as far as getting offshore from local ports.
Lobsterman Sonny Gwin took a blunt, realistic look this week, saying, “The Inlet is more important than me. You have to look at sportfishing, recreational fishing, commercial fishing. You’ve got to add that up. That should be the importance, not just what comes in here commercially. If we don’t make a change and do something, it’s going to affect everybody.
Sunset Marina General Manager Brian Tinkler discussed a number of things this week including the fact two traditionally rival sides are partnering on the greater good these days with lawmakers. Both share a great economic stake in achieving a long-term solution to the depth issues that routinely plague Inlet navigation.
“Few things could bring two groups closer together than their need to access the ocean,” Tinkler said. “I think we finally have the attention of all the right players.”
In that case, Tinkler is talking about state and local elected officials who are working with both segments of the fishing industry. There seems to be a united front on this matter. The key will be getting something long-term on paper that can be realistically funded several times a year.
There’s a good chance the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will not issue a ruling before the end of this month on the Rapoport property controversy with the Town of Ocean City.
The appeal of the Worcester County Circuit Court decision was filed in late August. My guess is the high court will agree to hear the case.
If the court agrees to hear the case, there’s a timeline issue to consider. The town has given the Rapoport family heirs – which has operated the building on the east side of the Boardwalk that’s home to Dumser’s Dairyland for decades – until the end of the year to remove or demolish the building. In addition, and more pressing, Dumser’s needs to vacate the premises by Halloween, according to a town letter on the matter.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan confirmed Thursday the town does not intend on enforcing these deadlines due to the ongoing court matter. Meehan said the town will let the process play out and not enforce any changes to the property while the court considers the appeal.
“The family has the right to the appeal process and we have no objection to everything operating as is until that plays out,” Meehan said. “This is the right thing to do for everyone involved. We will not enforce these ordinances until the court process is concluded.”
That essentially means Dumser’s Dairyland will be able to operate at the south Boardwalk location through the fall season while the matter is decided in court. It could be months before the matter is heard by the court and even a year before an opinion is rendered.