ANNAPOLIS – State officials Wednesday will kick off a $500,000 advertising campaign telling Marylanders that this summer’s Pfiesteria outbreak has not compromised the safety of Chesapeake Bay seafood.
“The Seafood Awareness Campaign” follows public seafood eating by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other state officials, gestures aimed at showing their confidence in the fishery.
The Department of Agriculture said the tax-supported campaign will purchase advertising in area newspapers and on local television. The campaign also plans special events to educate the public about safe preparation and handling of seafood.
Prompting the advertising campaign is an state seafood industry under siege. Lowered consumer confidence, said Bradley Powers, a Department of Agriculture expert, is causing an estimated $20 million per month decline in revenue to watermen, wholesalers and retailers.
But the lack of confidence is irrational in light of the facts, Powers said.
The amount of fish killed by Pfiesteria amounts to about one ton, or a fraction of one percent of the state’s annual seafood haul, he said. Powers added: “The chances of a [sick] fish showing up on the market are non-existent.”
The campaign — some ads began running this week — is popular with industry members, who believe it’s the only way to fight what they consider public hysteria and inaccurate media coverage.
“This is the best we can do to counter the negative press,” said Larry Simns, who heads the Maryland Waterman’s Association. He said more education should be done, but acknowledged that money limits the ability to spread their message.
To Bob Evans, a waterman and current chairman of the Maryland Seafood Marketing Association, the crisis is “completely out of proportion to the actual size of the problem” and the advertising could help the public to understand that. “It’s going to take a lot to time and money to get us out of this thing,” Evans said.
Pfiesteria is a naturally occurring organism that, under circumstances scientists are now trying to determine, releases a toxin. That toxin has resulted in fish kills in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina waterways, and health problems among human beings who work those waters.
But state officials, from Glendening to Secretary of Health and Hygiene Dr. Martin Wasserman, have repeatedly said that not one single person has ever fallen ill from eating a Pfiesteria- afflicted fish.
Last summer, Glendening closed sections of three rivers with Pfiesteria related fish kills. He reopened the Pocomoke River earlier this month. Michael Schultz, communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, also believes the advertising campaign is a good idea. But he urges the state to focus on the conditions that have caused the problems, not on symptoms like Pfiesteria-related fish kills. -30-