To Comptroller Peter Franchot, do you know that there is a legally mandated Oyster Advisory Commission?

It was created to discuss the state of oysters, oyster regulations, propose oyster projects and then make advisory proposals to the Department of Natural Resources and eventually to the state legislature.

Have your staff look it up.

While they are at it have them fact check the position statements brought to you by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ShoreRivers, the Coastal Conservation Association and the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.

Your recent record on oyster issues only reflects the concerns of those agencies.

For instance, in January 2020 you credited the very good oyster harvest to a nascent aquaculture industry. Wrong. The numbers were for the public fishery. Oddly enough not one oyster farmer stepped up to correct the mistake.

Then in November 2020 you stated in front of a group comprising legislators, DNR officials, CBF, CCA, sports fishermen and ShoreRivers that you intend to restructure Maryland’s commercial fisheries. All apparently without consulting or working through the OAC, DNR and channels that include all user groups.

And just recently you have misspoken once more.

In August of this year, you stated you would “phase out” the public oyster fishery in favor of aquaculture. Then you would institute a “buy-back” of Tidal Fishery Licenses, especially ones with oyster surcharges.

That last idea reveals a deep lack of respect and compassion for the tens of thousands of Marylanders involved in the seafood industry.

You’re the state comptroller. Can you tell me where will the tax monies come from that would no longer be paid into Maryland’s coffers if you “restructure and or phase out the commercial fisheries”?

What about meaningful long-term employment? If you remove one sector from the public fishery, you effectively deny watermen yearlong employment. How about some kind of affordable health care for each business in the value chain that is the public oyster industry?

Do not think that I am not concerned about the health of the Bay. I have been advocating realistic policies for years.

Your inference that by phasing out the public oyster fishery and restructuring the commercial fisheries you can better save the Bay is just smoke and mirrors. You should know by now that it is much more complicated than that.

I was initially encouraged by your candidacy for governor. I remembered your ability to work in a bipartisan manner, more reflective of common sense than politics.

Now you sound just plain common.

You could try to be more representative of the demographics that helped the current governor into office. You should stop blindly trusting and have your staff fact check information especially from the CBF, CCA, and ShoreRivers using the DNR and the University of Maryland.

ShoreRivers, CBF, CCA have no respect for the consensus of opinions that create proposals brought through the OAC. A commission made up of nearly all stakeholders including themselves. When things agreed upon don’t please them, they then choose to do an end run, disrespecting the commission and go to the legislature to get their way.

Are you willing to act out of the same lack of respect for stakeholders willing to work together to better manage Maryland’s oysters? Are you just playing to the media to get that moment in the light and then have to walk back your statement while keeping yourself in the limelight?

Apparently, you should be reminded that there are lives of watermen, their families, communities and supporting industries like restaurants that make up the commercial fisheries in the balance.

What kind of governor will you be?

Marc Castelli writes from Chestertown. “The View From the Washboards” aims to offer a waterman’s opinion on today’s issues.

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