OCEAN CITY, Md. - The bitter January cold kept fishermen away from the Ocean City Harbor Tuesday, but low-water levels could keep them away in the future.
John Martin, the general manager at Martin Fish Company says the levels threaten the ability of fishing vessels to pass through.
"If we can't get the vessels in here, then we can't pack fish, then we would no longer be a viable company," said Martin.
Martin tells WMDT the channel leading into the harbor is dredged twice a year to 10 feet, a level that's fine for most boats, but not 75-foot vessels.
"It's not deep enough," said Martin. "They don't want to risk damage to their boats."
If a boat is damaged, removing a grounded boat from the water can cost watermen $10,000, says Martin.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. For boats that bring in 300,000 pounds of fish a year, Martin says could end up losing close to $1 million.
But it goes beyond the fishing industry.
In a statement to WMDT, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce wrote, "We know that this problem has been escalating and often the commercial vessels cannot enter the harbor, or are forced to lose valuable time and fuel waiting for high tide, so that they can safely clear the shallow area.
"If these commercial vessels are discouraged to unload here, we could face serious economic consequences. We hope that we can work together at the local, state and federal level to dredge either more often, at a deeper rate (up to 14 feet versus 10 feet), or investigate ways to slow down the quick build up of sand and silt that occurs between the twice annual dredging.
"This is a critical industry for our economy in terms of jobs as well as fresh product delivered to residents, guests and area restaurants. In addition, it is necessary to keep the back bays clear and safely navigable for recreational boating, fishing and water sports.
"Tourism depends on the recreational use of our waterways. We feel that there are solutions possible and that we can work together to ensure that the harbor remain a viable commercial harbor for generations to enjoy and experience."
Martin says if the vessels can't come through, "they won't bring their catch here."
Martin and others spoke to Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday about how to fix this problem. His solution is to dredge deeper, but that takes money. County commissioners said they will help send out letters to the state, but at this time, they do not have any money for a deeper dredging project.