Posts Tagged 'sarah elfreth'



Bill Introduced in Maryland House to Combat Seafood Fraud

national aquarium government affairs and policy update

Earlier this week, Delegate Eric Luedtke introduced a bill that would provide Maryland residents with better information on the origin of purchased seafood.

The “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act” (House Bill 913) is the first piece of legislation introduced in the state of Maryland that directly addresses seafood fraud. According to our partners at Oceana, at least one-third of all seafood items purchased in the United States are mislabeled. They also reported that 26 percent of tested seafood in the DC metro area was mislabeled.

Citizens can have a tremendous positive impact on the health of our bays and oceans through their everyday consumer choices. The effectiveness of these choices is directly linked to the reliability of the information provided. Proper identification opens the doorway to increased knowledge of where seafood is raised and harvested, contributes to the movement of sustainable fishing practices and sustainably minded consumers, and results in a healthier ocean.

The National Aquarium is proud to support this bill: we cannot properly protect the ocean without fully understanding its creatures and our relationship to them. A large amount of our interaction with fish and shellfish occurs in the kitchen and in restaurants, and the more we can know about where our food is from the better we will understand this relationship.

Through educational programming, conservation action, special events like our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Seafood Dining Series, and in supporting policy initiatives like this one, the National Aquarium places a high priority on promoting and supporting seafood that is caught both locally and sustainably.

Here are the five things you need to know about the Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act:

  1. This bill specifically prohibits any person from knowingly misidentifying the species of seafood product being sold in the state of Maryland.
  2. This bill requires that species, common name and state of origin be identified on restaurant menus or market signs, as appropriate.
  3. The bill requires specific identifications for crab products, barring anything that wasn’t made from the Atlantic crab species Callinectes sapidus from being labeled as “blue crab.”
  4. In addition to actively supporting this bill, Oceana has also petitioned Congress to pass federal labeling legislation. If passed, Maryland would become the 2nd state in the country to require this type seafood labeling.
  5. Over 400 chefs nationwide have signaled their support for this type of legislation, including 25 chefs from Maryland and 10 from Baltimore.

The bill will be heard in front of the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 26th at 1:00 pm. The National Aquarium team will testify in support and will actively advocate for the bill before the entire General Assembly.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to contact your Maryland representative regarding House Bill 913? Find your legislator here.

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Government Affairs Update: 90 Days in Annapolis

government affairs and policy update

The Maryland General Assembly was gaveled into its 434th session today at noon in Annapolis.

maryland shark fin bill

Hot topics in this election year session include raising the minimum wage, expanding pre-kindergarten programs, and revisiting Maryland’s stormwater law. You can read more previews of the 2014 legislative session in the Washington Post’s 10 Things to Watch list, the Baltimore Sun’s 8 People to Watch list, or see what our partners at Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland League of Conservation Voters will be working on over the next 90 days.

As part of the National Aquarium’s mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, our Government Affairs team is committed to helping shape conservation and environmental policy at the local, state, and federal levels and engaging our community every step of the way. Weekly Legislative Updates, along with our blog and social presence, will serve to communicate the Aquarium’s legislative activities during the 90-day session. You can read the Aquarium’s 2013 End of Session Report recapping last year’s work in Annapolis.

While the list of Senate and House pre-filed bills are available for viewing, the bulk of the 3,000 pieces of legislation predicted to be introduced this session will be filed in the coming weeks. The Aquarium’s legislative agenda will evolve as the session progresses and bills are introduced. Stay tuned for updates on our policy priorities, the status of the Aquarium’s Capital Budget request and education funding, and ways you can get involved.

For more information on how the National Aquarium is living its mission in our home state, visit aqua.org/maryland.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our legislative update emails and follow me on Twitter for real-time updates from Annapolis throughout session!

Want to know who represents you? Find your legislator here.

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Thoughtful Thursday: 363 Days and Counting

government affairs and policy update

National Aquarium is a 501c3 nonprofit education and conservation organization and does not endorse any political party or candidate running for political office.

Maryland’s environmental community, five gubernatorial candidates, and the running mate of the sixth candidate gathered in Annapolis this week to lay out their visions for future environmental policy if they are elected on November 4, 2014.

Consistent themes throughout the debate (hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1,000 Friends of Maryland) included Maryland’s stormwater fee, transportation, fracking, and the re-licensing of the Conowingo Dam. All issues have a direct connection to the State’s greatest natural treasure – the Chesapeake Bay  and all deserve thorough discussion and debate.

The following is this reporter-for-a-day’s objective coverage of the debate collected from copious note-taking, sporadic live-tweeting, and ruminating over what real reporters have written in such esteemed publications as the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

The only bit of commentary I will make on the debate is this: I was deeply encouraged to hear a number of candidates speak to the importance of environmental literacy (creating an environmentally conscious and engaged citizenry) – an issue near and dear to the National Aquarium’s heart.

(The following reflects each candidate’s speech in the order in which they spoke.)

Charles County Business Executive Charles Lollar:

If elected, will: Fully fund the Chesapeake Bay Trust fund to the tune of $50 million annually; Address the pollution flowing into the Bay from other states; Engage with governors of other watershed states; Ensure that the important environmental research being done is used to educate Marylanders.

Harford County Executive David Craig:

Enviro credentials: Leader in Harford County on land use and recycling issues.
If elected, will: Support clean air and clean water; Keep farmers working.

Delegate Ron George:

Enviro credentials: Sponsored waterway improvement, energy net reading, and solar energy tax credit legislation while in the House of Delegates.
If elected, will: Establish a long-term plan for the Conowingo Dam; Champion oyster restoration.

Delegate Heather Mizeur:

Enviro credentials: Fourth generation farmer; Sponsored legislation to place a moratorium on fracking while in the House of Delegates.
If elected, will: Defend the stormwater law; Facilitate better dialogue between farming and environmental communities; Develop rural transportation plan; Invest in smart growth; Support a moratorium on fracking.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman:
(standing in for Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who was unable to attend because his father was ill)

Enviro credentials: O’Malley/Brown Administration’s environmental agenda.
If elected, will: Strengthen environmental enforcement agencies; Create tracking system for pesticide usage; Improve public transportation; Mitigate effects of stormwater runoff; Remove “black liquor” from the State’s renewable energy portfolio; Work on community renewables and smart meters.

Attorney General Doug Gansler:

Enviro credentials: Led the charge to have phosphates banned from dishwasher detergent and arsenic banned from chicken feed.
If elected, will: Continue work on environmental justice issues; Strengthen environmental enforcement agencies; Ensure that fracking is completely safe; Protect female crabs and continue oyster restoration projects.

Tuesday’s debate was just a preliminary snapshot of how the six candidates/teams running for governor will approach environmental policy if elected 363 days from today. I encourage all who read this post to peruse each candidate’s website, study their official environmental policy packages (to be officially unveiled for all candidates), and make an informed decision come Election Day.

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More Fish, Less Clams: Affordable Access to National Aquarium

government affairs and policy update

I am sure I speak for other Aquarium staff when I say that one of the most fulfilling aspects of our jobs, especially after a rough day, is to live vicariously through our visitors – witness their anticipation as they enter the Aquarium beneath a 35-foot replica of a Maryland waterfall, experience their enthusiasm as they see our new Blacktip Reef exhibit, hear all about the dolphins or sharks from the excited (and excitable) children in the parking garage elevator.

amazing jellies

The Aquarium experience is made even more inclusive as the weather gets colder and the crowds filling the Inner Harbor get smaller. The coming of autumn signals my favorite time of the year – affordable access season at National Aquarium.

Despite our “national” designation, we are still very much Baltimore’s Aquarium. To celebrate our local roots and to give back to the community that has given us so much, the Aquarium is proud to host a number of programs that allow locals to visit their Aquarium for less:

  • Fridays After Five has been a cornerstone of the National Aquarium for decades in the fall and winter as college students visit for the first time, families from around the Baltimore region come back to see what’s new and couples on first dates share a romantic stroll through the world’s aquatic treasures. Visitors pay just $12 on Friday evenings between September and March.
  • Launched last fall, Maryland Mornings provides Maryland residents with $10 off for adults and $5 off for children from September through February, Sunday through Friday, with entrance before noon – all with just a valid proof of state residency.
  • Annual Dollar Days (the first weekend of December) provide access to our more than 17,000 animals for – you guessed it – $1.

So brave the brisk weather, be a tourist in your own backyard and take advantage of these terrific programs. Bring a date, bring a friend, bring the entire family – just don’t forget your driver’s license!

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Baltimore’s Grand Experiment – The “Fish Tank” 32 Years Later

government affairs and policy update

*Special thanks to Senator Ben Cardin, whose idea served as the inspiration for this blog post. 

Baltimore’s National Aquarium celebrated its 32nd birthday on Thursday – officially unveiling the new $13 million Blacktip Reef exhibit in a style that invoked the iconic image of William Donald Schaefer wading into the seal tank while wearing a 1920s bathing suit and carrying a rubber duck on August 8th, 1981. Thirty-two years later, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli risked the shark-infested waters for Thursday’s ribbon cutting, officially ushering in a new era of exhibits at the “crown jewel of the Inner Harbor.”

mayor anniversary photo

As anniversaries often do, the commemoration of another successful year offers an opportunity to look back at where things began and how far they have come. It is easy to forget that when the concept for an aquarium in Baltimore’s then-sparse waterfront was first proposed there were those who vehemently opposed its founding and the public support that helped fund its construction. Yet since breaking ground in 1978, the Aquarium has proven that it’s not the floundering fishbowl people imagined, but rather a deep sea of success. Nearly 50 million people have walked through our doors. Of them, 2.5 million Maryland students have been inspired by the 16,000 animals from more than 650 different species that call the Aquarium home. The National Aquarium remains the number one tourist attraction in Maryland with nearly 1.4 million visitors every year. And a recently completed economic impact study  concluded that the Aquarium is responsible for $314 million worth of economic impact and an additional $19 million fiscal impact on the City and State every year.

Given this tremendous contribution to the state, it is almost hard to believe that the National Aquarium was once decried as “frivolous” and just one of the Mayor’s “pets” during the contentious debate over the bond referendum to help fund the Aquarium in 1976. Critics worried that attendance would be low and the resulting reduced revenue would not be enough for the experiment to be self-sustaining (in fact, the Aquarium only planned to host 600,000 people – instead it saw 1.6 million visitors in its first year). Finally, opponents argued that the presence of such a project would not be “essential” to the City of Baltimore.

While I was not alive to witness this debate or Mayor Schaefer’s infamous plunge, a picture of him tipping his straw hat, eyes staring up at the glistening glass pavilion he spent nearly a decade bringing to life hangs on my office wall. It reminds me on a daily basis that, national designation or not, we are still Baltimore’s Aquarium[1]. It was Mayor Schaefer and his Commissioner of Housing and Community Development, Robert Embry, who first dreamed up the idea to attract tourism to the Inner Harbor with an aquarium in the early 1970s. It was Baltimore City residents in 1976 who voted to fund the Aquarium’s construction via a bond referendum. And it was Baltimore’s native son, former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, who led Congress to designate the new facility the “national aquarium” in 1979.

A day after Mayor Schaefer took his dive with an 800-pound seal named Ike, the Baltimore Sun opined: “On Pratt Street yesterday were crowds of people where crowds never existed before.” So here is to another 32 years. Another 50 million visitors. Another 2.5 million Maryland students. Thousands more breathtaking animals to visit. And hundreds of millions more economic and fiscal benefit to the City and State.

Happy birthday, National Aquarium! Apart from crab cakes and the Orioles, I can’t think of another symbol that is more “essential” to the City of Baltimore.


[1] The land and the buildings are owned by the City of Baltimore. The City of Baltimore funded most of the Aquarium’s $21.3 million construction cost. Other major sources include: $7.5 million from City capital funds generated by the sale of Friendship (now Baltimore-Washington International) Airport to the State of Maryland; another $7.5 million from the 1976 bond issue referendum; and $2.5 million from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department. The private sector contributed about $1 million.

National Aquarium intern and Towson University student, Kelsey Fielder, contributed greatly to the research and writing of this post. 

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