Lawmakers launch new effort at tightening background checks on gun sales

By JALEN WADE

Capital News Service Washington Bureau

Amidst a surge in firearms sales, lawmakers in the Senate and House have introduced legislation expanding background checks for all gun purchases.

“Background checks are simple, easy, and they save lives. That’s why more than 90 percent of Americans support our legislation to make sure no guns are sold in this country without a background check,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and the lead sponsor of the background check measure in the Senate, said in a statement Tuesday. 

His bill has 45 Democratic co-sponsors, including Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.“If there is no background check, there should be no sale of a firearm,” Cardin said in a statement. “The goal is simple: keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t be able to buy them.”“Gun violence has plagued too many families in Maryland and across the country. Universal background checks will save lives,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, introduced a similar bill in the House, where a background checks bill passed two years ago but then died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. Thompson’s bill includes GOP co-sponsors and could be voted on as early as next week.

“Time and time again, we have seen that the American people want universal background checks, in fact public polling shows that the majority of people, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, support this,” Thompson said in a statement.

The bills are aimed at closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” under which private gun sales – on the web, from homes and at gun shows – have not required federal background checks.

About 20 percent of gun sales are conducted without background checks, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“We need action to help stop the violence that claims over 100 lives every day and disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities,” Brady President Kris Brown said in a statement.

The National Rifle Association denounced the background check bills, saying on its website that the measures “would criminalize the private transfer of firearms.”

The lawmakers acted as President Joe Biden considers using executive orders to enact what he calls “common sense” gun control measures.

Biden last month also called on Congress to toughen gun control laws, including not only requiring background checks on all gun sales, but also banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and eliminating legal immunity for gun manufacturers.

Biden said his administration “will not wait for the next mass shooting” to act.

“We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer,” Biden said. “We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change.”

The day chosen for his announcement was especially significant: (colon) as it was the third anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three staff members were killed.

Biden has made clear that gun control measures are a top administration priority, consistent with a central theme of his presidential campaign. 

Biden and other administration officials already have met with several gun safety advocacy groups. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said that Democrats would work with the Biden White House to enact background check legislation. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act were both passed by House Democrats in 2019. 

Murphy has met with Susan Rice, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, to discuss the stronger background checks. He has been a strong proponent of gun control since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in his state. Twenty children and six adult staff members died in that tragedy.

Various gun control groups have praised the changes that Biden said he wants to make to gun laws. 

“Joe Biden ran on one of the strongest gun violence-related platforms of any candidate who’s run for president, especially in the general election,” said Adam Patrick, director of political communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “He has supported extreme protection orders, universal background checks and for a long time he’s championed the assault weapons ban.” 

Biden isn’t new to fighting for gun control. In 1993, then-Sen. Biden worked to pass the Brady bill, which implemented the modern background check system that advocates are now pushing to reform. He also helped to create the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired a decade later despite congressional supporters’ efforts to renew it.

Despite the support from the Democratic members of Congress, Biden faces stiff opposition from most Republicans, especially in the Senate. Their party leaders have a history of blocking gun safety bills. 

“You look at the history of gun violence prevention, for a long time it was a third-rail issue,” Patrick said. “It is something that has evaded real action in Congress and has seen a lot of progress in the states. But people need federal laws.”

Despite what has happened in the past, Patrick said the new proposals for greater gun safety have a better chance because the Democrats control both houses of Congress.  

But public support for change has waned a bit. According to a Nov 16 Gallup Poll, public support for stricter gun laws is at the lowest level since 2016. Fifty-seven percent of respondents supported stricter gun laws, 9 percent wanted less strict laws, while 34 percent wanted no changes. 

The FBI said it processed a record 39.7 million firearms background checks in 2020, the highest annual number since the agency started recording this data in 1998. 

Even if enacted, new gun laws also are likely to be challenged in the courts. And some local law enforcement officials have said they wouldn’t enforce new gun restrictions.

Sheriff Richard Mack of Arizona, founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), said that gun control is unlawful. 

“You would think that somebody that’s been in Washington, D.C., for 47 years would know that gun control is against the law of the United States of America and that he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Mack said, referring to Biden.

Mack’s group represents more than 1,000 officers across the country. According to Mack, the majority of them refuse to enforce any gun control laws that might be implemented, adding that he and his allies “will not violate the Bill of Rights.” 

But other law enforcement groups, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as many mayors and other local officials, have called for tighter gun laws. Survivors of mass shootings and parents of mass shooting victims also have mobilized to join with gun safety groups to press for new laws.

Former President Barack Obama weighed in on Twitter last week: “Even as we focus on fighting COVID-19, it’s important to recognize that there’s another pandemic raging right now—one that’s decades in the making and unique to the United States. We need to treat gun violence with the same urgency and resolve.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, tweeted back, thanking Obama.

“The urgency to deal with gun violence has never been greater,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with @POTUS @JoeBiden to start this work and to save lives.”

Sports betting debate heats up in Annapolis

By PATRICK HAUF
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Maryland legislators have begun to discuss regulation of the state’s newly approved legalized sports betting market, which includes mobile wagering. 

Early debates in both chambers have focused on establishing a license distribution plan that is both equitable and profitable. 

HB0940, introduced by Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, establishes a regulatory framework that would set aside roughly $18 million annually to help fund the state’s new multi-billion dollar education plan, according to the bill’s fiscal analysis. 

The bill establishes the legal age of sports betting at 18 years. 

Maryland voters approved legalized sports betting on the ballot in November by a 2-1 margin.

All of Maryland’s neighboring states have successfully launched legalized sports betting markets. 

“I’m hoping we can all get this worked out this year because we were behind the curve on passing casino legislation — many other states got a jump on us,” P.J. Hogan, a representative of the Rocky Gap Casino, which is close to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia state lines, told Capital News Service. “We’re almost behind the curve already on sports betting.”

While not a single group testified against the bill during its hearing last week, many had suggestions on how to improve different regulatory aspects of the legislation.
The Maryland Senate began similar debates through the Sports Betting Workgroup, chaired by Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, who told CNS the group is merely listening to experts and interested parties as it prepares to work with the House on specific legislation. 

Issuing licenses

The bill establishes three categories of sports wagering licenses: Class A being already licensed casinos and racetracks; Class B being other interested businesses such as stadiums, restaurants, and hotels; and mobile licenses for online wagering, which will cover an estimated 85 percent of the market share in Maryland, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. 

Class A licences would be distributed by 2022 to the nine licensed casinos and racetracks in the state, according to the fiscal note.

Businesses would pay $250,000 as a Class A application fee and an additional $50,000 annual fee.

Class B licenses would be distributed to a maximum of five businesses and mobile licenses to a maximum of 10 businesses, numbers that many local and international businesses testified as being too small. 

Businesses would pay $50,000 as a Class B application fee and an additional $10,000 annual fee. 

Mobile licenses would come with a $500,000 application fee and $100,000 annual fee. 

John Pappas, the state advocacy director for iDEA Growth, a sports betting advocacy group, told CNS that limiting Class B and especially mobile licenses only hinders competition and lessens government funds raised. 

“There is no policy benefit for the state to have a cap,” he told CNS. “The state benefits when there are more online licensees because those companies are required to pay upfront licenses fees. The market will expand and contract to what the market can support.”

Similar sized states to Maryland, such as Colorado and Indiana, have a cap of more than 30 mobile licenses, Pappas noted. 

Pappas said that Indiana has consistently raised more government revenue over the past two years as it increased the cap on mobile licenses. 

Maryland’s six Video Lottery Terminal licenced casinos, in a joint written testimony, proposed an amendment that would automatically license a mobile wager for licensed casinos, which Pappas said is a common regulatory framework in other states. 

Including Minority-Owned Businesses 

Another aspect of licenses debated by members of both chambers regards the inclusion of minority-owned businesses.

Politicians and business leaders noted during the committee hearings and workgroups that none of the original 15 businesses licensed to sell medicinal marijuana in Maryland were run by African Americans. 

The bill would establish that the state conducts studies through a variety of agencies that determines whether minority- and women-owned businesses are at a disadvantage in the sports betting industry and what can legally be done to better promote equity, specifically in the distribution of licenses. 

Malik Edwards co-founded Bet on Black LLC in response to the approval of legalized sports betting to advocate for equal opportunity in the industry. 

Edwards told CNS he is pleased with the potential opportunity for minority business through Class B and mobile licenses, but proposes that these businesses are better identified early on in the application process, along with increasing the number of distributed licenses. 

“Historically, in so many economic industries, there’s been exclusion — even in new fields where the economic opportunities are wildly anticipated — cannabis being one of them,” he told CNS. “We can’t just act like we’re starting from zero to equal when it comes to these new industries.”

Taxing revenue 

The bill establishes a 15 percent tax on sports betting revenue, which jumps to 17.5 percent on annual mobile wager revenue above $5 million.

Low taxes are key to competing with illegal sportsbooks, which take in an estimated $2 billion in wagers from Maryland each year, according to the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency and Oxford Economics.

Only two states have a mobile wagering tax rate of more than 15%, while 9 states have a tax rate of 15% or less.

Sarah Koch, senior director of legal and government affairs for Draftkings, told CNS that Draftkings does not recommend Maryland taxes any more than 15% on sports betting revenue in order to compete with the illegal market. 

“States have recognized that the tax rate needs to strike a balance between generating adequate revenue for the state while allowing operators to compete effectively with the robust offshore market,” Koch told CNS. “Keeping taxes fair and reasonable allows legal operators to offer competitive pricing and also to reinvest in the market.”

In terms of neighboring states, Pennsylvania’s mobile tax is 36%, Virginia’s is 15%, Washington D.C.’s is 20%, and West Virginia’s is 10%. 

Taxes on in-person wagers tend to be higher and vary more state to state.

Casinos, P.J. Hogan told CNS, view in-person sports betting licenses as a way to compete with the appeal of casinos in neighboring states.

As more people come to the casinos to bet on sports, Hogan said, the hope is they also play other methods of gambling, which have a significantly better house edge. 

The sports betting market is highly competitive, has a low margin of profit, and is extremely volatile, according to the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency — requiring vast expertise in the sportsbook and marketing industries. 

States were granted the authority to legalize sports betting after the Supreme Court ruling on Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2018. 

Fraudulent unemployment claims present concerns in Maryland

By CATHERINE SCOTT
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Unemployment claims in Maryland have increased greatly since the start of the pandemic, and more than half filed since January were found to be fraudulent. 

The Maryland Department of Labor has flagged 65% of all unemployment claims since January 2021 alone for fraud, and of that percentage, 87% were actually fraudulent.

“We did not have the luxury of planning and preparing for a global pandemic that resulted in an 800% increase in our claim volume essentially overnight,” Maryland Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson said at a Board of Public Works meeting Capital News Service attended Feb. 24.  

The state’s Department of Labor was unprepared for the exponential increase in claims due to the pandemic, as they became understaffed and also had to deal with hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims, according to Robinson.

Identity theft and unemployment fraud are happening country-wide, and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that over $36 billion — 10% of the total payments as of early November — of the payouts from the CARES Act could have been paid fraudulently.

“Some states have been really hit harder in terms of not discovering these scams as quickly and fortunately as we were,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, R, said at the meeting.

Rutherford also said that he, as well as Gov. Larry Hogan, R, and Robinson herself all had unemployment claims filed under their names fraudulently, which were flagged and immediately blocked.  

Rutherford, who worked for the federal government prior to becoming lieutenant governor, said that many who also worked for the federal government are at risk because of data breaches.

“The data is out there. Our personal information is out there, and it is marketed by these different groups,” Rutherford said. “And when you have this crisis, scamsters and organized crime step in and say ‘We’re going to use these lists or buy this information and see what we can get out of it’.”

“And just for the record, the lieutenant governor is not unemployed,” Comptroller Peter Franchot, D,  joked and then said to Robinson, “We are the paymaster, but we are going to rely on you to confirm that there is as little fraud as possible.”

Hogan announced at a press conference on July 15 that the state had uncovered more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims in Maryland, which totaled more than $501 million. 

The labor department has found 384,651 fraudulent claims since the beginning of the pandemic out of the 447,817 flagged, according to data on the department’s website.

The data also shows about 90% of the 176,561 out-of-state and about 83% of the 271, 256 in-state claims that have been identified as potentially fraudulent did not upload verification or were reviewed and denied.

These numbers can be expected to change as more fraudulent claims are flagged and an investigation with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office continues, according to an announcement on the department’s website. 

The FBI announced in December that from 2015 until 2019, Maryland was ranked 5th in the country for the amount of “money mules,” or people “who trade illegally obtained money between different payment accounts”, in the state.

In order to further combat the fraud, the Maryland Department of Labor is planning to contract with a vendor that will help to prevent and detect fraud, according to Maryland Department of Labor Director of Communications, Fallon Pearre.

If a scammer has the correct date of birth and Social Security number and the claim gets validated without being detected by the department’s “triggers”, then a notice is sent to the claimant’s employer, which Robinson said is the department’s “plan B” to catch fraud. 

“It shows that it can’t be just a mechanical process to just roll checks out to everyone who’s asking for them,” Rutherford said.

The labor department has also launched a new, modernized unemployment insurance system, which Robinson said has allowed for more efficient fraud detection. 

The Office of the Maryland Attorney General has recently released a webpage with resources to help people report the fraud and protect their identity.

If a person believes their identity was used to fraudulently file an unemployment claim, they can report it by:
Visiting MDunemployment.com, Calling the UI Fraud Hotline at 1-800-492-6804 (Press 1), Emailing ui.fraud@maryland.gov.


No one is liable for any benefits paid out in their name if they are fraudulent, according to Robinson.

Biden taps three for Postal Service board; signals possible move on DeJoy

By JENNIFER MANDATO

Capital News Service Washington Bureau


President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated three people to fill vacancies on the United States Postal Service Board of Governors.

The nominations came the same day Louis DeJoy apologized to a congressional panel about poor mail service but insisted the problems existed before he took over the USPS.

Congressional Democrats have written letters and publicly called on the president to fill board vacancies in a move that could ultimately result in DeJoy being out of a job. 

The board vacancies were a major topic of debate during a Wednesday hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Ron Bloom, the board chairman, told lawmakers that the board has lacked full attendance for at least six or seven years. The 11-member board has nine members in staggered terms chosen by the president. The board selects the postmaster general, and then the board and the postmaster general appoint the deputy postmaster general (a position also currently vacant).

As the board is currently made up of six white males, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, called for diversity.

“An agency of over 640,000 employees that come from every walk of life and serve the entire American public should have representation at the top reflective of the broader American population,” she said. 

She asked  DeJoy:  “Do you see it as a problem that the Board of Governors for the United States Postal Service looks like a millionaire white boys club?”

It appears that Biden’s nominees are intended to address that lack of diversity and all have some degree of experience with the postal industry.

Anton Hajjar is the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and has also served as an adviser and pro bono attorney in employment discrimination cases.

Amber McReynolds is the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to expanding and improving vote-by-mail systems in all 50 states.

The third nominee is Ronald Stroman, who recently served as deputy postmaster general and chief governmental relations officer for the USPS.

Biden’s nominees will all have to be confirmed by the Senate. If approved, the newly-filled board could move in the direction Democrats are hoping for – adding two men of color and a woman – and create a majority to replace DeJoy, a donor to former President Donald Trump.

DeJoy maintained that many of the problems at the Postal Service existed long before he became postmaster general.

“The years of financial stress, under-investment, unachievable service standards and lack of operational precision have resulted in a system that does not have adequate resilience to adjust and adapt to changing circumstances,” he said.

Some committee members were less than impressed with this approach.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, scoffed at DeJoy’s plan to lengthen mail delivery times.

“It sounds like your solution to the problems you’ve identified is to surrender,” Raskin said. “Because the mail has been late under your leadership we’re just gonna change the standards and build it into the system that it will be late.”

Throughout the hearing, DeJoy alluded to a “strategic plan.” He told Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Baltimore, that plan would be ready in the next two weeks and that he is “always happy” to return before the committee and explain the details of it.

But Rep, Katie Porter, D-California, was skeptical.

“I’ve heard that you have a new strategic plan, but I’m really concerned that this plan may neither be strategic nor a plan,” she said.

Earlier in the day, redesigned Postal Service delivery trucks were unveiled and are set to replace current vehicles that are, on average, 25 years old. The “next generation delivery vehicle” is set to take to the streets in 2023 and will include increased safety features – shockingly, airbags – and more cargo space. Some of the fleet also will be electric.

Another issue facing the Postal Service is Medicare integration for Postal Service employees. 

The USPS is the only agency required to pre-fund employees’ retirement funds. Only 73 percent of Postal Service retirees are enrolled in the program, and if the Medicare integration is passed it would require current employees to enroll once they turn 65.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, and chairwoman of the panel, said that Medicare integration would save the USPS $10 billion over the next 10 years, to which DeJoy said that projections on his end show at least $30 billion in savings over that same time frame.

Each witness, including Bloom and Mark Dimondstein, president of the APWU, announced support for Medicare integration.

Hogan looks to new vaccine during stadium site visit

By DARRYL KINSEY JR. 
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Emergency use authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would provide a huge boost to Maryland’s efforts to fill the gulf of supply in the state’s vaccine allotment, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, said Thursday.


Hogan made the statement at a press conference after a tour of the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site.


The governor’s comments echo those he made on Tuesday that the vaccine, produced by Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, could receive FDA Emergency Use Authorization as early as Friday. 


Authorization by the FDA, which would make it the third vaccine in the U.S, would bolster the options states have in treating the enormous demand for vaccinations.


The single-dose vaccine would allow more people to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 quicker than the two-dose variants from Moderna and Pfizer.


Earlier in the day, Hogan took a tour of the newly operational mass vaccination facility, along with the head of the State’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, Gen. Janeen Birckhead.


The governor spoke with constituents and watched several vaccinations in progress during the walkthrough of the site, built in a large reception area in the stadium’s club level.


President and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System Dr. Mohan Suntha and Michael Frenz from the Maryland Stadium Authority were also in attendance. 


Suntha called the establishment of the new mass vaccination site a step in a “big process” of ensuring Maryland Communities were vaccinated.Birckhead said the new vaccination center was “one step closer to getting us back to normal.” 


The site is expected to eventually administer 2,000 doses of the vaccine per day, and up to 10,000 per day at its peak, according to Hogan. 

Signups for the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site began on Monday, with some some 15,000 appointments registered before Thursday’s opening, according to the governor’s office.


However, the Baltimore Sun reported that the signup page for appointments was overwhelmed as Marylanders rushed to schedule an appointment.


M&T Bank Stadium is the third Mass Vaccination site to open in Maryland, joining the Baltimore Convention Center and Six Flags America in Bowie.


A fourth mass vaccination site is slated to open in Southern Maryland in March at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf with support from FEMA.


 Maryland has administered 1.18 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a seven-day average of 31,050, according to the Maryland COVID-19 vaccination dashboard. 


Maryland is in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C of its vaccination plan, which allows residents 65 and older, teachers, health care workers, the developmentally disabled, nursing home staff and residents, and others to get the vaccine. 


Eligible Maryland residents can call 1-855-MDGOVAX(1-855-634-6829) to schedule an appointment from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. 

Pandemic could change Md. oyster industry for good

Photo: Ben Stern

By AUDREY DECKER
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

The pandemic-affected oyster season has been difficult for the industry in Maryland, causing farmers and watermen to rethink how they sell their product and changing how programs conduct oyster restoration.

After restaurants reduced their capacity and a stay-at-home order was issued last spring, restaurant sales essentially went to zero within a matter of a week, said Scott Budden, founder of Orchard Point Oyster Co. headquartered in Stevensville, Maryland. 

Pre-pandemic, Orchard Point Oyster Co. would primarily sell to restaurants, either directly to the chef or through regional distributors and wholesalers. Since April, they have transitioned to directly selling to the public, through local pick-ups and cold shipping, Budden said. 

While the 2020 harvest numbers are preliminary, as of December, there were 39,913 bushels of oysters sold in Maryland in 2020 from leased beds, compared to 54,903 bushels sold in 2019, according to the Department of Natural Resources. This is more than a 25% decrease in the number of oyster sold off of Maryland shellfish aquaculture leases, which includes harvests from farmers and some watermen.

Many people only see oysters as something they enjoy at a restaurant, said Karis King, public relations and event manager at the Oyster Recovery Partnership. 

“With restaurant closures and events being pretty much non-existent, oyster farmers are left with a ton of supply with oysters that need to be harvested right away or else they are going to grow larger than the desirable market,” King said. 

There’s a sweet spot for oysters to be harvested — between three to four inches from one tip to the other. Beyond that, the meat becomes too large, King said.  

“Oysters don’t stop growing because of a pandemic amongst humans,” Budden said.  

To help address the demand problem, the Oyster Recovery Partnership has been working with oyster farmers to connect them directly to consumers and educate the public on how to shuck at home, King said. The Oyster Recovery Partnership works to increase the number of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and implement oyster restoration projects. 

Similar to Budden, Jason Wilford, the founder of Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co., also pivoted to online sales. However, even that has been a hit or miss, he said. Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co. is headquartered in Easton, Maryland, and grows their oyster on the Choptank River.  

“Some weeks are great, some weeks are nothing,” Wilford said.

Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co. participated in the Nature Conservancy’s two-year initiative, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration — known as SOAR — in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Oyster Recovery Partnership. 

This program has helped farmers stay afloat by purchasing uneaten oysters from farmers and using them for restoration. 

SOAR provided cash to purchase new seed and cleared some of his inventory to make room for this year’s oyster planting, Wilford said.  

A farmer grows their own oysters, while watermen participate in public fisheries. Farmers don’t harvest from public shellfish areas, rather they have aquaculture leases. A lot of watermen are also farmers, however, and have applied and received leases to grow oysters. 

Robert Brown, watermen and oyster grower, has bottom oyster leases on the tributaries of the Potomac River. While more watermen are getting into growing each year, many of them are in their upper 60s and don’t want to invest the type of money at that age to start an aquaculture business, Brown said.

Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he sells the majority of his oysters to oyster packaging houses, which aren’t working at capacity because they can’t sell the oysters once they shuck them.

Watermen are being hit hard in the pandemic and it might be a few years before we get back to normal, Brown said. 

Oyster restoration efforts have also been affected during the pandemic.

Each year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation adds 25 million oysters to the Chesapeake Bay on average. They added 14 million oysters in 2020, 10 million less than usual, according to a recent press release. 

Their oyster restoration season started three months late after non-essential activities were put on hold, said Allison Colden, Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Their season only lasts six months of the year, cutting their time to restore oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay in half.

Considering the challenges they faced due to the pandemic, adding 14 million oysters is still a big feat, Colden said.

But even past the pandemic, Jason Ruth, owner of Harris Seafood Co. in Grasonville, Maryland, said he doesn’t see the oyster industry getting back to the numbers they once had. 

People are creatures of habit and now that they’ve gotten used to doing things at home, the restaurant industry might never go back to how it was, Ruth said. 

Moving forward, the oyster industry has to get creative in how they sell oysters and how they teach people to eat oysters at home, Ruth said. 

The Maryland General Assembly is also working to protect oysters and aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay. 

Last week, the Environment and Transportation Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates held a bill hearing for HB0800, a bill that would require the Department of Natural Resources to develop a mobile application to determine an individual’s location in relation to aquaculture leases, natural clam or oyster bars, oyster sanctuaries, open harvest areas, and other relevant data, according to the bill’s fiscal and policy note. 

Even if this bill can save 10 watermen from losing their living for being in the wrong area, it’s worth it to the citizens of Maryland, said Del. Jerry Clark, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, sponsor of the bill.