By Richard Gaines
---- — Ending a 45-year epoch of entrepreneurial struggle on the waterfront, the Ciulla family has sold its holdings at 27 and 37 Harbor Loop for $4.1 million, according to documents at the Essex County Registry of Deeds.
The seller was Star Realty Management LLC, which descended from the original shoreside business, Star Fisheries, built painstakingly on the site beginning in 1967 by the late Carlo Ciaramitaro and his son-in-law, Augustus “Gus” Ciulla, who died last November.
The buyer, Kristensen Realty LLC, is owned by Kristian Kristensen, whose dogfish business, Zeus Packing Co., had been a tenant of the Ciullas’ Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, at 37 Harbor Loop, which fought a decade-long battle with federal fisheries law enforcers before winning a Cabinet-level apology and limited reparations in May 2011.
But the victory was Pyrrhic, leaving the family exhausted financially and emotionally from defending itself against what a special judicial master wrote was a “siege mentality” that gripped the agents and litigators and led to a litany of extra legal actions aimed at laying the auction low.
Kristensen purchased the assets of the auction house business last September during a flurry of legal activity, including a filing by the Ciullas for bankruptcy protection and an ill-fated suit by fishermen that alleged price skimming at their auction.
“We went as far as we could as long as we could,” said Larry Ciulla, president of the auction, said at the time of the sale of the business. “We wanted to make sure the auction remains in the community.”
The family was unavailable for comment Tuesday. The Ciullas had taken mortgages of $2.1 million in 2004 and $400,000 in 2001, according to Registry of Deeds documents.
Changing the name to the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, Kristensen has continued to operate the auction business, which in November, two months after the sale, faced direct competition from the Canastra brothers, Richie and Raymond, who last November opened Gloucester and Boston branches of BASE, the region’s largest fish auction. The Canastras’ main auction house is in their hometown, New Bedford.
All that will survive from the businesses begun by the Ciaramitaro-Ciulla family team is the waterside restaurant, Capt. Carlo’s, named for the patriarch, who was born in Detroit, but moved back to Sicily with his family before re-settling in Gloucester in 1930. He went to sea at 10, growing into a captain before giving it up for shoreside opportunities in 1956.
His daughter Rose, Gus Ciulla’s widow and Larry Ciulla’s mother, is the only named officer of Star Realty Management LLC.
Kristensen said Rose’s daughter, Rosemarie Cranston, will continue to operate Capt. Carlo’s, at 37 Harbor Loop, on a lease. When it opened at the end of the 1980s, Capt. Carlo’s was a groundbreaking enterprise, which proved to skeptics that a restaurant could successfully rub shoulders with a fish processing business. The comedian Whoppi Goldberg adopted Capt. Carlo’s as her preferred hangout when in town for under-the-radar summer escapes.
These events were set in motion in 1967 when Ciaramitaro acquired the City Oil Wharf and began building a standalone fish processing plant — away from the Jodrey State Fish Pier. In 1974, the family acquired 2
1/2 acres from the Gloucester Housing Authority for $104,042, according to a report in the Times.
A 200-foot pier was completed in 1980, and then in the mid to late 1990s, together with then Mayor Bruce Tobey, the family began exploring how and if to convert the fish plant into an auction, based on the model of the region’s first such facility in Portland, Maine. State and federal aid in the form of low-interest loans helped the launch in 1998.
Not everyone was thrilled, Tobey conceded. With the rise of the auction, smaller processors disappeared.
Almost immediately, law enforcers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration became suspicious, and weaving two minor cases together, convinced themselves widespread illegal landings were taking place under the noses of agents who were a nearly daily presence. According to the report by Special Judicial Master Charles B. Swartwood III, NOAA agents used false information to get a search warrant in 2006, made an illegal entry the same year and intimidated fishermen for evidence that wasn’t forthcoming.
The law enforcement nadir came in June 2009 when then agent-in-charge Andrew Cohen launched a public relations campaign against the business, tipping The Boston Globe to his plan to serve the fish auction with a notice to close based on a discredited legal theory — that an administrative finding by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco that the business had violated a parole agreement represented a final ruling, even though the business had appealed Lubchenco’s decision into the federal court system.
Cohen was allowed to resign rather than be called to testify or be interviewed by Swartwood. A federal judge chastised NOAA for attempting to impose punishment before the resolution of the case, and by the following March, the government had settled with the Ciullas on terms favorable to the family.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x 3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.