Commercial fishing operations in Virginia like Virginia Beach Shrimp have found some success in shrimping. Maryland's coast hopes to cash in on it, too. Facebook photo.

Bill Would Move Md. Closer to Commercial Shrimp Fishery

Maryland is proud of its beloved local seafood, from crabs and oysters to … shrimp? While there isn’t currently a shrimp fishery to speak of in the Maryland portion of the Bay, the shellfish is turning up more and more frequently in the Bay region. And some state lawmakers on the Eastern Shore say it’s time to explore a commercial fishery.

A bill currently being considered in the Maryland legislature would clear the way for a Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) pilot program. Sponsored by State Senator Mary Beth Carozza and Delegate Jay Jacobs, respectively, Senate Bill 537 and its cross-filing, House Bill 1149, would “clarify the authority of DNR to adopt regulations governing any aspect of the shrimp fishery and establishing and implementing a pilot program related to fishing for shrimp.” 

As a first step, a 2021 Senate Bill created a shrimp fishery and required that commercial harvesting of shrimp would require a license. But for it to be fully implemented, “DNR needed to be given the authority and responsibility to determine the rules and regulations governing the shrimp fishery – such criteria as closed areas, seasons, catch and size limits, gear types, number of licenses, and reporting requirements,” Senator Carozza told Bay Bulletin. “That is what this session’s continuation accomplished with SB537.”

As Carozza and Jacobs explain, there are strong arguments to act now on the pilot program. 

First, while shrimp populations on the East Coast have previously been limited to the Carolinas, warming waters mean that they are beginning to show up farther North, including off the Atlantic coastline and in the lower end of the Chesapeake Bay. There may be adequate supply for an industry in some areas of Maryland. Second, if determined to be viable such an industry could not only provide a new revenue stream to harvesters, whom Carozza notes would need to invest an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 on gear for shrimp harvesting, but would also boost local and state coffers through tax revenue. And, finally, commercial harvesting would allow Marylanders to buy local water-to-table shrimp from watermen, restaurants, and grocers at a time when roughly 90 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. 

Both bills have received favorable positions within their respective committees—as well as from DNR, trade groups, and watermen themselves.

DNR expressed its official support in a letter that referenced its consultation with Virginia, where, as Bay Bulletin reported, a commercial shrimp fishery pilot program was developed in late 2018 and has since been deemed successful. Similarly, Maryland Oystermen’s Association President Jim Mullin and Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert Brown testified that SB537 would provide the guidance and regulations required by an emerging industry. And Sonny Gwin, an Ocean City waterman who sells lobsters directly to consumers, said, “Now that we’re seeing shrimp along our coast, we would like to see the DNR have the authority to allow us to catch and sell these shrimp just as we’ve been doing, right off the boat, for years.”

Although he doesn’t see an opportunity for shrimping on the Bay’s mid-western shore, longtime Annapolis-area waterman Patrick Mahoney, Jr., who harvests crabs and oysters and fish, expressed support for the bill as well.

“Harvesting shrimp isn’t something I’d be interested in because I haven’t seen any shrimp in this area of the Bay,” Mahoney told Bay Bulletin. “That said, I’m all for anything that helps grow the fishing industry and helps people like me make a dollar, so I think it’s definitely something well worth exploring for folks down South and out on the coast.” 

If SB537 and HB1149 continue to move forward to full passage, the pilot program is scheduled to start on July 1, 2022.

-Steve Adams