Bill Aims To Establish Shrimp Fishery Pilot Program

OCEAN CITY – A bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would clarify the rules for developing a shrimp fishery pilot program in the state with implications for the resort area and the Lower Shore got favorable reports this week from state Senate and House committees.

Shrimp, a staple in most resort area restaurants in many forms, has heretofore always been considered a southern transport and hasn’t been targeted for commercial harvesting in Maryland. However, in recent years, shrimp have been showing up more and more in local waters, off the Atlantic coastline and in the lower end of the Chesapeake Bay.

To that end, last year the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that would allow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create a pilot program to establish a commercial shrimp fishery in the state. Last year’s bill established a potential pilot program for a commercial shrimp industry.

This year, a companion bill now filed in the Senate and House will create a framework by which the pilot program could be implemented by the DNR. Sponsored by State Senator Mary Beth Carozza and others, Senate Bill 537 had its first hearing this week in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which responded with a favorable report on Monday. The cross-filed House Bill 1149 also got a favorable report from the Environment and Transportation Committee.

“This bill is clarifying the Department of Natural Resources authority to adopt regulations for the new shrimp fishery,” Carozza said during testimony. “You may recall, the Maryland General Assembly with the support of this committee passed a bill last session to create a new shrimp fishery requiring licensing and gave the DNR broad authority to manage the fishery.”

Carozza during the committee hearing explained a commercial shrimp fishery in Maryland had not been considered before and there is no licensing procedure or regulations in place.

“Previous commercial shrimp harvesting was believed to be only feasible in southern waters,” she said. “However, recent findings have concluded that shrimp are in our Atlantic coast waters and harvesting them will create a new economic boost as well as contribute to local and state revenues.”

Carozza said during testimony there is a renewed interest in developing a commercial shrimp harvesting industry locally.

“During these current uncertain times with supply chain issues and food shortages, our commercial seafood harvesters consistently provide local, relatively inexpensive, unprocessed healthy food choices,” she said. “Our watermen are taking a risk when they engage in a new fishery. They deserve our support in making this pilot program a workable, flexible alternative.”

Carozza called on longtime Ocean City commercial fisherman Sonny Gwin, captain of the Skilligalee out of the West Ocean City harbor, to testify on behalf of the legislation.

“As a lifelong commercial fisherman, I fish for lobsters down in Ocean City, Maryland,” he said. “When I come in, the tourists and consumers alike come down to enjoy fresh lobsters right off my boat.”

Gwin said during the hearing the same situation could evolve if Senate Bill 537 is approved and a commercial shrimp industry is created in Maryland.

“Now that we’re seeing shrimp along our coast, we would to see the DNR have the authority to allow us to catch and sell these shrimp, just as we’ve been doing right off the boat so the tourists and consumers can enjoy them just like they are enjoying seafood down in Ocean City for a lot of years,” he said.

Maryland Oystermen’s Association President Jim Mullin testified the current bill would establish a framework for creating a regulated commercial shrimp industry in the state.

“We are in favor of this bill since the shrimp fishery is an emerging new industry,” he said. “It’s beginning to provide some guidance moving forward for setting up the goals and objectives for a sustainable fishery. This bill could help set up some comprehensive plan may or some type of bylaws. It is very helpful moving forward to set the structure up.”

Carozza said Senate Bill 537 is the next step in the process to create a commercial shrimp industry in Maryland.

“Last year, we passed legislation that established a shrimp fishery, which was the first step,” she said. “Now, we’re coming back to say we need to put the guidelines and regulations in place for the second step to move forward with the pilot program.”

Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert Brown said vessels are currently catching shrimp, but without regulations and licensing, it’s not targeted at this point.

“Right now, it’s a bycatch,” he said. “There are no regulations on the emerging shrimp fishery.  It doesn’t say we can’t keep them, but it does say we can sell them. There is no license for them or regulations.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.