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New Bill May Require Restaurants To Specify Where Seafood Was Caught

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Is your Maryland crab cake true blue? A proposed new state program would let you know. Legislation is being introduced in Annapolis to make restaurants specify where their seafood comes from.

Tim Williams has more.

When the Mathias family of Baltimore County sits down for a seafood dinner, they think it’s reasonable to know where the seafood originated.

“From experiences up in New England or throughout the south, people try to label seafood products after Maryland products and it’s not quite the same,” said Stephen McCurdy Mathias.

“When I see steamed crabs on the menu, I expect Old Bay. I expect Maryland steamed crabs, not something from another state,” said Andrea Mathias.

A bill introduced Wednesday in Annapolis would complement existing laws that make it illegal for restaurants or markets to mislabel the seafood they sell and specifically would require them to note where their crab meat came from.

The bill’s sponsor, Eric Luedtke, says it protects consumers and supports local watermen.

“A couple of years ago, a national group called Oceanus started doing DNA testing all around the country at restaurants. And in most major cities, they found that anywhere between 20 percent to 40 percent of the seafood being served was not what the consumers thought they were getting,” Luedtke said.

“We already tell them where it’s from. If they ask us where the crab meat came from, we tell them the truth and go from there,” said Randy Bielski, Ocean Pride Restaurant.

Full disclosure is not a concern at restaurants like Ocean Pride in Lutherville. Owners say bay conditions make it tough to sell exclusively Maryland crab meat, but it’s done whenever possible.

“We just mark ours `crab cake’ because we use crab meat from other places. I don’t think anyone can use 100 percent Maryland crab meat because this time of year, they’re not even crabbing,” Bielski said.

“I do think that, in the end, what this will result in is that Marylanders will have better access to Maryland seafood and Maryland watermen will be able to get better prices for their catch,” Luedtke said.

In the next few weeks, a committee meeting will assess the bill’s likelihood.

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