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Maryland's 'True Blue' seafood certification program expands

By Richard Gorelick

The Baltimore Sun

12:15 PM EDT, June 24, 2013

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Now in its second season, the state's "True Blue" seafood certification program has increased the roster of participating restaurants from 26 to 150, according to Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The state launched the labeling and marketing initiative in 2012 to help encourage restaurants to carry Maryland crab meat.

Not everyone needed encouragement, though.

"We're an 80-year-old Baltimore business, so why wouldn’t we support a local industry," said Sebastien Trossman, the executive chef at Alonso's, one of the newer restaurants on the True Blue roster.

Trossman said few customers have commented on the certification program but he was glad to be a part of it.

"I grew up in Southern Maryland around the crabbing industry," said Trossman. "I’ve always been more attracted to Maryland crab meat. It’s just a superior product in my mind."

Crab may be king in Maryland, but relatively few restaurants in the state serve Chesapeake crab meat, said Vilnit. And there's nothing to keep restaurants that make crab cakes with meat imported from Venezuela or Indonesia from calling them "Maryland crab cakes."

Restaurants that enroll in the True Blue program must submit periodic copies of sales receipts to the state showing that at least 75 percent of the crab product they use in a calendar year is either harvested or processed in Maryland.

Certified restaurants can use the state's True Blue logo on their menus and marketing materials. The state's Maryland Seafood website recently added an interactive map to help consumers find participating restaurants and retailers.

Vilnit said that Maryland crab meat processors have reported a 17 percent increase in pounds sold since the program launched last year.