BERLIN – Elected officials assured commercial watermen they heard their concerns at a meeting last week.
On Oct. 16, Congressman Andy Harris joined Sen. Mary Beth Carozza and Delegate Wayne Hartman to meet with commercial fishermen at the West Ocean City Commercial Harbor. Harris offered support as they pursue changes to ensure local watermen can continue to earn a living.
“You just tell us when and to whom we have to make the case,” Harris said.
Harris joined Carozza and Hartman at Sea Born Seafood last Friday to talk about issues facing local fishermen. Sonny Gwin, who operates the Skilligallee, stressed the importance of maintaining local boats’ ability to fish for black sea bass.
“Black sea bass is the only fish we get we land 12 months out of the year,” he said, adding that it was the most dependable fishery.
Watermen also asked Harris to work toward increasing limits on red crabs. While boats aren’t having any trouble bringing them in, they’re only allowed to bring in a small number. They sell those to customers at the docks but aren’t able to bring in enough to market beyond that.
“We don’t have enough allocation to sell to restaurants,” said Sea Born’s Kerry Harrington.
Hartman agreed that expanding that fishery could help local boats.
“It sounds like an opportunity we could work on growing here,” he said.
Gwin acknowledged selling seafood straight off the boat had helped fishermen during the pandemic but said he still wanted to see the commercial harbor remain viable on a larger scale.
“It used to be a commercial harbor, now it seems like a takeaway harbor,” he said.
Franky Pettolina of the Last Call said the charter boat industry also wanted to see the harbor remain commercial.
“It’s a web and we’re all in it together,” Pettolina said. “I want to see it work for everyone.”
Watermen at Friday’s meeting also reminded Harris that COVID-19 had impacted them as well and that they still needed relief. As a result, Harris this week applauded the news Maryland would offer aid to members of the commercial fishing industry struggling during the pandemic. Though the state was allocated $4 million in CARES funding for fisheries relief in May, the spending plan has only just been approved.
“I have advocated for the creation and funding of this program in Congress, and my office has been in regular contact with NOAA to ensure that these funds were allocated and Maryland’s plan was approved as quickly as possible to provide the support so badly needed by the First District’s crucial seafood industry,” Harris said in a statement Tuesday.