Regarding the article about an interstate health panel that has threatened to declare Maryland in violation of sanitary shellfishing practices {front page, Aug. 21}: it amazes me that something like this hasn't happened more often in the past.

I worked as a Maryland Department of Natural Resources police officer for almost 10 years. My time with the DNR was spent in the marine division, where one of our main tasks was the enforcement of the Maryland seafood laws and regulations. This put me in daily contact with Maryland clammers, and I observed the way they stored and protected their catch from contamination. Protection from contamination of the clams on most Maryland clam boats is minimal to nonexistent.

Clams, when they are caught, are placed in either a plastic basket or a wooden bushel basket. Maryland law requires only that these clams when on the boat be protected from direct sunlight. The clams sit in baskets that are used over and over again and are never washed. They are taken to the buyer in the back of pickup trucks that had family pets in them and that have hauled family garbage and trash to the dump or transported fertilizer and dirt.

I have seen clams on clam boats, on the hottest summer days, stored in the open baskets right next to a hot running motor, which often would throw oil and grease around the area. And this was just a quick look at what I saw during my time working with the state.

No, I don't believe that the banning by other states of Maryland clams is political. The Maryland Health Department and Maryland clammers have only themselves to blame. They have played both wide and loose with Maryland's laws and regulations for years.

The clammers have often cried that the state was trying to ruin the seafood industry and put watermen -- the last of a dying breed -- out of work by proposing stricter regulations. And when this cry arose, the state backed down, except with the rockfish controversy. Now it is time for Maryland to make the hard decision and start to regulate the seafood industry the way it should be. Let us start to protect the end user of Maryland seafood -- the consumer.

DON HALL JR. Annapolis