With the help of a federal grant, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has started a new advertising campaign to protect the state's $400 million-a-year seafood industry by convincing consumers that fish from the Chesapeake Bay is safe.
Noting that the effort was launched before any sign of a repeat of last year's Pfiesteria outbreak, Bradley Powers, assistant secretary of agriculture, said yesterday: "We are not interested in putting out a forest fire, we are trying to prevent a forest fire."
Last summer's Pfiesteria scare was devastating for the industry. Powers said that seafood sales were running 10 percent ahead of the previous year in July and dropped in August after the Pfiesteria related fish kill of the lower Eastern Shore.
"Sales dropped by an average of 40 to 60 percent at most seafood outlets, and in some cases they were 60 to 80 percent below the previous year," he said.
Estimates of losses incurred by commercial fisheries, the charter boat industry, recreational fishery and tourism total nearly $127 million.
"Seafood dealers were hit real hard," said Powers, estimating their loss at $43 million.
He said the industry is pretty much back to normal with the exception of the lower Eastern Shore, where sales are still off slightly.
To assist the state in its campaign, Senators Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski announced that the federal Economic Development Administration has awarded $800,000 to be used to assist the Eastern Shore's seafood and tourism industries.
Powers said $500,000 goes to the Agriculture Department, which is responsible for the promotion of Maryland seafood.
The other $300,000 will be used to promote tourism.
The Agriculture Department is due $250,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and a like amount next year.
The federal dollars will be added to $500,000 in state funds.
Powers said the funds will pay for newspaper, radio and television ad campaigns.
Posters and signs will be distributed to seafood retailers along with brochures with information to answer consumers' questions.
Another brochure, which will go to tackle shops, will advise recreational fishermen on how to handle fish suspected of coming into contact with Pfiesteria and whom to call.
Commercials on radio broadcasts of Orioles games have been on the air since the spring, television commercials will start this week, and the printed ads will appear later this summer.
In a change from the approach taken last year, Powers said the state campaign "will try to avoid using the word Pfiesteria unless we have to. We don't want to bring it up again and again.
"The primary message we want to get out is that Maryland seafood is safe."
Pub Date: 6/10/98