Maryland’s watermen will be key to fighting climate change and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, R. David Harden, a Democratic contender in the 1st Congressional District race, said.
The future of watermen has become a flashpoint in the 2022 statewide elections: Comptroller and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter V.R. Franchot has said he would phase out commercial oystering as governor, and told The Star Democrat in an August interview he would instead promote aquaculture, where oysters, fish and other aquatic animals and plants are cultivated in a controlled area as opposed to harvested in the wild.
But Harden said in an interview that promoting watermen and a sustainable Chesapeake Bay aren’t mutually exclusive goals. In fact, Harden argued that the watermen are uniquely equipped to restore oyster beds given their familiarity with the Bay. Habitat loss, over-harvesting and disease have all led to a decline in the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population over the past century, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Watermen are naturally incentivized to want a sustainable Bay, Harden said, because their livelihoods rely on it.
“The watermen care about the sustainability of the Bay more than anybody else,” Harden said. “They do not want to work at an Amazon warehouse off of I-95. They would like to give their business to their kids and to their grandkids.”
Harden, who lives in Carroll County, founded the foreign policy consulting outfit Georgetown Strategy Group after spending 17 years in the Middle East and other parts of Asia with the U.S. Foreign Service. He spent much of his time overseas working on economic development, and said he learned that no project succeeds without the support of the local population.
“The watermen need to be included in driving solutions, and they have to achieve some level of economic prosperity that’s attached to that,” Harden said. “They have to get a piece of the grants.”
Harden said he wants to send grants for restoring oyster beds and cleaning the Chesapeake Bay to both watermen and environmental groups, and study which group achieved better results.
He also wants to deregulate how watermen sell their harvested oysters, crabs and fish to create a sort of farmer’s market at piers. He noted that craft breweries, farmer’s markets and wineries have skyrocketed in popularity on the Eastern Shore in recent years, with people venturing across the Bay from D.C. to buy local products.
“We need to figure out how to modernize the water economy and not be so broken and prescriptive about it,” he said.
The future of Maryland’s watermen is set to be a key issue in both Harden’s campaign and that of his primary opponent, former state delegate Heather R. Mizeur (D). Mizeur, an environmental advocate, said in a statement that she is “actively engaging, listening and having thoughtful dialogue” with watermen about her own policy proposals.
Mizeur, of Chestertown, described watermen as a “vital part of the economy and culture of the Eastern Shore” in the statement.
“Watermen stand to benefit from a cleaner Bay, and have a major role to play in ensuring the health of the Bay and our local waterways for years to come,” Mizeur said.
Maryland’s 2022 primary election is scheduled for June 28, 2022.