, Gloucester, MA

May 20, 2013

Kirk eyes plan for fishing 'transition'

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s office has released a proposed “bridge plan” to have the federal government finance a transition for fishermen displaced by drastic reductions in landings for 2013 and reinvent the nation’s oldest fishing port, long the center for landings from the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, as a set of “green” and sustainable smaller and specialized businesses.

Sarah Garcia, the city’s port development director, said the mayor was planning a trip to Washington, D.C., later this spring to lobby the Obama administration and Congress for financing to underwrite the project that can be understood as a reinvention of the port and redefinition of a 21st century fishing port.

“We have not seen any offering up of aid,” said Garcia, who in so doing, was acknowledging that the bridge plan is, for now, a wish list — “ a template for what’s needed.” she explained..

The fishing industry, its advocates in Congress, notably Rep John Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Gov. Deval Patrick have carried out an escalating effort to obtain federal fisheries disaster relief for the fleet — at a price tag $100 million — but have been unable to win the support of President Obama. A direct appeal by the governor to Valeria Jarrett, a senior White House advisor to the president, fell on deaf ears.

The Department of Commerce also declared the Northeast goundfishery — covering the entire region from Maine to New York, as a recognized “economic disaster,” but no funds have been appropriated to address it.

Patrick has told Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office that he spoke to Jarrett by telephone on April 25, asking for the White House to reverse the order by NOAA to cut landings in cod, haddock and flounder by more than 50 percent in the fishing year that began May 1. But Jarrett did not respond, and the cuts were announced four days later.

Garcia said what the mayor has in mind is qualitatively different and more appealing as an investment in the future rather than pouring money into an industry that remains in the midst of federal regulatory strangulation.

“Before, it was characterized as handouts to fishermen,” said Garcia. “This is different, this is investing in a new marine environment.”

The city’s “bridge plan” has five elements, according to a briefing paper released to the Times:

Transitional assistance to un- or under-employed fishermen and crew “to meet immediate financial needs including unemployment insurance, mortgage protection, debt restructuring dockage and fuel relief”;

Transitional assistance to shore-side businesses which whose service businesses will decline in lockstep with the reduced activities or the fleet;

Redeploying fishing boats as research vessels;

Transitioning from high volume landings of groundfish -- notably cod, haddock and flounders -- to a port specializing in high value, low volume fish and fish products from processed fish waste; and,

A collaborative review of fisheries management, which now is conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from its Northeast headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park.

The proposal for reinventing the port from its history as the business center for the offloading and sale of groundfish involves levels of investment.

“Examples of current proposals include retrofitting of fishing boats for high quality and flexible, multiple species harvesting and fuel economy,” states the briefing paper from the mayor’s office. “Partnerships of fishermen and processors in live-fish markets, freeze dried and other value added products; expansion of local fresh catch programs to include institutional customers; processing of chitin (the exo-skeleton of lobsters and crabs) and other products from lobster, crab and clam shell waste and invasive green crabs, poly-culture of shellfish, kelp and seaweed and fish habitat restoration, hatchery stock enhancements, green chemistry solutions from the ocean biomass.”

The paper indicated that the goals of the plan “are both to preserve the core assets of the fleets and the ports during the groundfish recovery period and to use this crisis as an opportunity to retool the industry through investments in sustainable, innovative businesses and practices going forward.”

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464.