OCEAN CITY — While millions of dollars in prize money remain up for grabs heading into the final two days of the 49th White Marlin Open, perhaps the biggest winners could be food-insecure Marylanders.
Each year, thousands of pounds of billfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and other species targeted during the White Marlin Open are donated to the Maryland Food Bank. After being weighed at the scale at host Harbour Island, many of the fish caught during the tournament are cleaned right on the docks and packaged for delivery to the Maryland Food Bank, which provides meals for the food-insecure in the state.
Most of the fish cleaned, weighed and packaged during the tournament goes to the Maryland Food Bank’s local branch in Salisbury, where it is distributed in a variety of ways through the agency’s many partners. Most of it finds its way to those who need it right here in the local community and on the Lower Shore. The fresh fish, which often finds its way onto tables just days after being caught, provides a nutritional meal for those in need, according to the Maryland Food Bank’s Ben Gross.
“Especially during this economy, having high-quality protein like the fresh seafood caught at the White Marlin Open and donated to the Maryland Food Bank in invaluable,” he said. “Not only is this type of food extremely nutritious, but by keeping it local, it reduces the impact on the environment and the bottom line.”
Each White Marlin Open is different and the amount of fresh fish the Maryland Food Bank receives from the tournament varies each year. Thus far, through midweek, the story of the tournament has been the tuna category, with a handful of 200-pound-plus big-eyes weighed at the scale at Harbour Island. The leaderboard will likely change as most of the 408 registered boats had fishing days left heading into Thursday and Friday. Gross said the Maryland Food Bank’s partners distributed the fresh fish donated during the tournament in a variety of ways.
“On average, we receive 1,800 to 2,000 pounds each year during the tournament,” he said. “This can feed hundreds to thousands of families, depending on how our partners use it. Some will portion it out into meal-sized packages for individuals and families, while other, like soup kitchens, may use it in a soup or meal that feeds many.”
The Maryland Food Bank-Eastern Shore branch in Salisbury provides meals to some of the most food-insecure counties in the state including Wicomico and Somerset. In the first year the Eastern Shore branch opened in 1981, it distributed about 33,000 meals. Last year, the branch in Salisbury distributed over 8.2 million meals to food-insecure Marylanders on the shore.