CAMBRIDGE – The governor ate rockfish, cameras snapped away, television crews jockeyed for position, and reporters climbed deck railings to get a better listen.
The eye in a hurricane of media attention, Gov. Parris N. Glendening sought to make a very public gesture in a visit Thursday to the Eastern Shore: Reassure seafood eaters that despite the Pfiesteria crisis, Maryland fish is safe to eat.
Saying “I wouldn’t ask anybody to do something I wouldn’t do personally,” Glendening dined on an early afternoon meal of Maryland crab soup and rockfish with potatoes in the company of members of his cabinet and the Legislature.
Seated at Glendening’s table as the cameras pressed in, Secretary of Agriculture Lewis R. Riley said, “You guys take all the pictures you want, the food’s getting cold.”
“We’ve got more cameras than people,” commented Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, R-Talbot.
The scene was Snapper’s Restaurant, a wood-paneled eatery sporting a deck overlooking the Choptank River. The governor and his party had walked in with a mass of press behind them. Glendening, dressed casually in a striped sportshirt and blue chinos, approached bemused restaurant patrons and asked how they were enjoying their meals.
Upon leaving the dining room, the patrons, many with looks of polite surprise on their faces, were once again confronted by reporters and questions about their confidence in the safety of Maryland seafood.
Slacum Myer and Anne Hagert, finishing off a lunch of chicken, were among those surprised by Glendening’s visit. That they weren’t eating seafood wasn’t related to Pfiesteria, Hagert said.
As Eastern Shore residents, Hagert said, “We’re seafood-ed out.”
And as Glendening left for a tour of Cambridge seafood processing plants, he left a restaurant devoid of patrons.
But Glendening’s symbolic action — his second since the crisis began in the summer — is an important gesture, said Bradley H. Powers, an assistant agriculture secretary.
If seafood consumption continues its current Pfiesteria- related decline, the $400 million industry stands to lose potentially $100 million, Powers said.
The Snapper’s co-owners, Susan Antonelli and John Sydnor, both said they were happy to host the governor, and hoped that Glendening’s meal would send a signal that Maryland seafood was safe. Despite the crises, “we are very busy” and the seafood season “hasn’t ended for us yet,” Antonelli said. -30-