Sunrise over a fish trap of nets at Cedar Point Hollow on the Chesapeake Bay near Solomons, Md. (Photo by Hyosub Shin/The Washington Post)

A forum Tuesday on the environment drew five Maryland gubernatorial hopefuls from both political parties — as well as the running mate of a sixth — underscoring the importance of the issue in next year’s election.

While the candidates touted many of the same goals, including Chesapeake Bay restoration and “smart growth” strategies, they parted ways on who is best-suited to implement those ideas.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) told the audience that the environment is his “top passion” and called himself “the one true environmentalist in this race for governor.”

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) argued that the environment is “part of my spirit” and that she is most in sync with the causes advocated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1,000 Friends of Maryland, the co-hosts of the event.

“You have many options for governor in 2014,” Mizeur said. “But if you’re making the choice based on who would be best for the environment, you really only have one choice.”

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), meanwhile, touted his running mate, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), as someone who would be “a governor who stands up for sustainability and protects our natural resources.” Ulman stood in at the event in Annapolis for Brown, who was visiting his father in a hospital in New York.

Three Republican candidates — Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar — also made pitches Tuesday, even though the GOP is typically not as enthusiastic about agendas of the advocacy groups. All three hopefuls stressed areas where they are in agreement.

Craig, for example, said that Harford has been a leader in land planning and has a very good recycling program and quality stream restoration projects. He made no mention, however, of his efforts to repeal his jurisdiction’s storm-water reduction fee. The fee, which critics deride as the “rain tax,” has been a major priority of groups advocating for a cleaner Bay.

Ulman spent a good chunk of the eight minutes he was allotted talking up the record of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Brown, with whom Ulman said he shares “the same vision and the same passion for Maryland’s environment.”

Ulman touted the current administration’s commitment to funding two planned light-rail lines — the Purple Line in the Washington region and the Red Line in Baltimore — that are priorities of smart-growth advocates. And he also noted the O’Malley administration’s additional spending on waste-water treatment plant upgrades.

Ulman said a Brown administration would build on those achievements. He also pledged that he and Brown would support legislation that environmentalists have sought to learn more the prevalence of pesticides being used in the state.

And Ulman talked about his county’s recycling and composting efforts.

Gansler ticked off work he has done as attorney general to clean up the environment, including 22 river audits designed to hold polluters accountable. He also recounted his efforts to push legislation designed to remove phosphorous from dishwater detergent and arsenic from chicken feed.

If elected governor, Gansler pledged he would boost the number of environmental regulators in Maryland, whose numbers have decreased significantly during the past two decades as the result of budget cuts and other factors.

And Gansler promised a go-slow approach on hydraulic fracturing, despite the efforts of other states to use the method to extract natural gas.

“Fracking must be completely safe or we should not allow it to happen,” he said.

Mizeur, who has been an outspoken opponent of fracking as a legislator, talked during her allotted time about owning a farm on the Eastern Shore — and argued that she is well-suited to find common solutions among farmers and environmentalists.

“We can’t pit environmentalists against farmers,” she said.

Mizeur, who said she is a fifth-generation farmer, also called for investing more in cities and towns as part of a “smart growth” strategy.

Lollar pledged to fully fund a Chesapeake Bay trust fund established by in 2007 that lawmakers envisioned providing $50 million a year for restoration projects. He also pledged to actively work with governors from other states on Bay cleanup.

George reminisced about growing up in Maryland and spending weekends on and around the Bay, including swimming in it. He also said he is a believer in solar energy.