U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez Thursday lent a sympathetic ear to the unfolding life crises of Gloucester fishermen, battered and beaten down by federal dictates that have limited landings to half —or in some cases less than a quarter— of what was allowed last year, despite assertions by a government agency and members of Congress that the cuts are not required
A Cohasset businessman, Republican and former Navy seal, Gomez’s foe in the June 25 special election is U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Malden, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, who has become a favorite of the green wing of the Democratic Party, and a believer in Obama administration fisheries policies.
Those policies, said many of the two dozen fishermen who met with Gomez at the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange at Harbor Loop, have brought mom-and-pop fishing businesses to the precipice of bankruptcy or beyond.
In his low-key manner, Gomez echoed the approach taken by Scott Brown, then a little-known Republican state senator from Wrentham who pulled a major upset in 2010, winning the special election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Edward M. Kennedy.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert,” said Gomez. “I’m hear to learn and listen.”
Gomez was introduced by two former aides to Brown, who developed a confident voice and clear understanding of the dense nature of fisheries regulatory politics — Vito Calomo, a retired commercial fisherman, and attorney Jack Richards, who was Brown’s liaison to the fishing industry and Gloucester.
“I’m a fast learner, and I’m a man of my word,” said Gomez, who sat in an informal circle at the center of the auction auditorium where fish caught in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank are sold to major buyers in the early morning hours.
Gomez noted Markey’s penchant to side with the Obama administration, whose policies have brought the Northeast groundfishery into “disaster” status as of last November, by the finding of the acting secretary of commerce.
“I know Congressman Markey has not been a supporter of the fishing industry,” said Gomez. “He didn’t vote to repeal the catch share system.”
In fact, Markey was the only member of the delegation with a seacoast district who did not vote to bar spending on new catch share programs in the Atlantic and Gulf regions. The prohibition was approved twice last year in the House with support from Congressman John Tierney and then-Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats. Tierney represents Gloucester, Frank represented New Bedford.
“Right now, the game is rigged (against the industry),” said attorney Joe Orlando, through “an unholy alliance between the Democratic Party and environmental interests ... The goal of the environmentalists is to put these guys out of business. It was amazing — in the last election — Scott Brown lost (to Democrat Elizabeth Warren) in Gloucester.”
“We believe you could be the guy” to become a champion of the fishermen, Orlando told Gomez, adding that the fishermen are not looking for welfare, they’re looking to be allowed to work.
“I’m a first-generation American, my family came here from Columbia,” said Gomez. “Lots of immigrants came here, you can’t count their stories, and they built up their livelihoods. I can echo the fact that they never received a handout. They wanted to earn their keep. They just want to work.”
The mood of the meeting was grim as one by one fishermen outlined their dire circumstances. One fisherman, Richard Burgess, explained that he had just put his house up for sale — it was the house or his boats, he said. Another, Orlando, owner of the Padre Pio, said he has only been to sea six days this month, the start of the 2013 fishing season, in contrast to the last year when he was able to go out almost every day.
“I’ve never seen this game over for so many people,” said Vito Giacalone, who runs the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund and is policy director for the Gloucester based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group. “We don’t have time to get you elected.”
Gomez said he would make the fishing industry a priority issue and keep it there if sent to Washington.
The seat at stake was vacated by John Kerry when he resigned to become secretary of state.
Markey has come to Gloucester, but not to meet specifically with fishermen or industry leaders.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, xe3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.