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October’s a Good Time for Maryland’s Marine Culture

But only a healthy Bay keeps the good times rolling

Making — and spending — money on the pursuit of pleasure on the water is what The U.S. Boat Shows are all about. Midway through their two-week encampment in Annapolis — with sailboats yielding place to powerboats — we hear they’re doing a good job of connecting people with boats — at no small expense. We’ve seen the same with our own eyes.

Boats, of course, are plentiful: 250 sailboats and close to twice as many powerboats.

Plenty of people are turning up to see them. A typical year’s Sailboat Show draws about 50,000 people. This year’s may be higher still, according to early attendance reports, which show an increase over last year’s show, itself the third best year so far in the show’s 40-year history. Of course beautiful weather hasn’t hurt.

Money is being spent. The value of the two shows to the city and local business is $51 million, according to organizers, who anticipate this year will be no disappointment. One proof: a Jaguar was bought and driven away. Quite a boating accessory.

Which is not to deny that you can find plenty of tools and technologies at the boat shows to help you find your way on the water, bring you home safely and make your boat and home friendlier to the water that draws us all.

These two weeks in October, we all see first-hand the huge role pleasure boating, by sail or power, plays in life on the modern Chesapeake.

At the same time, working the water accounts for a big share of the $2.5 billion Maryland’s marine industry contributes to our state economy.

October is not only the month of the U.S. Boat Shows. It’s also Maryland Seafood Month, when fishing is fine, blue crabs are at their fattest and most abundant and traditional wild-caught oysters come back in season. You could go to an oyster roast every weekend this month and into the next.

This weekend alone, you can eat oysters at the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival, the Three Rivers Sportsmen Club’s annual Beef and Oyster Roast, the Christ Episcopal Church Homecoming Oyster Dinner, the Benedict Volunteer Fire Department Oyster Roast and the West River Heritage Day Oyster Festival. (See 8 Days a Week to find more about these oyster encounters.)

You can catch a fish and catch a crab; both are good ways to use that fancy boat you’ll find at this week’s U.S. Powerboat Show. But you probably don’t catch your own oysters. All of us who enjoy Maryland seafood depend, somewhere along the line, on Maryland watermen.

So I read with interest and appreciation a release that puts Maryland watermen on the offensive in defense of the Bay that sustains this huge marine economy of pleasure boaters and working boatmen and Bayfood eaters.

The Maryland Watermen’s Association, according to a September 30 release, is calling for a “moratorium on development and all construction in the Chesapeake Bay critical area.” The word moratorium is reminiscent of the 1980s’ moratorium on rockfish, a hardship watermen endured for the resurgence of the species. This moratorium would last until the Bay’s 76 biggest sewage treatment plants are upgraded for enhanced removal of phosphorous and nitrogen.

That big step was supposed to have been taken by 2011. But only 13 of the treatment plants have been upgraded, and the deadline has been extended to 2015.

Only about 1,300 of 52,000 septic systems in the critical area have been upgraded.

“At the rate the targeted upgrades are slipping backwards and the horrible history of meeting clean-up deadlines, the Bay will be dead by 2015 unless Mother Nature comes in and rescues us with a hurricane or something like that,” said Larry Simns, association president.

No matter how much money we spend on our boats, we’re not going to enjoy them on a dead Bay. Nor have much to eat in the way of Maryland seafood.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher


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from the Editor