ANNAPOLIS – Wind-worn and rugged, their faces ruddy above white T-shirts, about 25 watermen came to Annapolis Tuesday to testify for a bill they say will help preserve their waning industry.
In a room full of dark-suited legislators, the visitors stood out in denim and flannel as they spoke in favor of the proposal to establish an apprenticeship program for commercial fishermen.
Sen. Roy Dyson, D-St. Mary’s, said he sponsored the bill in response to complaints about difficulty obtaining commercial fishing licenses since the General Assembly capped new applications in 1994.
Russell Morgan has been waiting three years to upgrade his 50-pot crab license to 300 pots.
He told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee that he would “pay $300 to you this evening” for his license, and objected to the state’s being able to collect interest on his money, while he waits.
There are currently about 8,200 commercial licenses, of which two-thirds are actively used. If the bill passes, that total number would increase to 1996 levels, allowing about 2,100 additional spots.
Dyson’s bill would let aspiring watermen bypass a lengthy Department of Natural Resources waiting list for new licenses. The DNR exacts a $300 fee just to get on the waiting list, with no real promise of a license.
JacQui Parkinson, president of WARF — Watermen’s Allegiance for Regulatory Fairness — called that “exploitation and extortion.”
But some witnesses expressed concern about depleting the fisheries if additional licenses are granted. Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said that controlling the number of people with access “is a great tool in protecting the resources.”
As Peter Jensen, deputy director of fisheries at the DNR, said, “Resources get scarcer. You slice the salami thinner and thinner and finally there’s no more salami.”
Bill Goldsborough, a fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said “limited entry is an essential part of fisheries management.”
But, countered Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, “You always look at the natural resources. Look at the human resources. These are people who make a living and we don’t want to restrict these people from doing that.”
Gerald W. Donovan, mayor of Chesapeake Beach, said he was concerned about the next generation of watermen, who would traditionally get their start in the industry by working on their elders’ boats.
“It’s America,” Donovan said, “You’re supposed to be able to do this.”
But the moratorium on new licenses means that many who would rise from mate on someone else’s boat to operating their own rigs may have no future.
Steve and Mary Horner brought their 12-year-old nephew from Princess Anne to speak for the bill.
The boy, John Aurelio, has been crabbing about two years and said he does not want to wait two or three years more for his license.
“If I pay $60 for a crab license, I should be able to get it today,” said the Greenwood Middle School sixth-grader.
The Horners considered willing their license to Aurelio, but the law only provides for that in the cases of children or grandchildren.
That’s the only reason Barry Chew’s son now has a commercial fishing license: Chew’s father died a year ago and willed his license to his grandson.
“I don’t see them saying we have enough truck drivers, so we can’t license any more,” Chew said.
Mary Horner echoed Chew: “I can see them telling lawyers who’ve passed the bar association test that they’ll take their money and put them on a waiting list.” Witnesses on both sides of the debate recommended studying the matter over the summer, rather than passing Dyson’s bill. -30-