A community forum billed by organizers as “Coming together to support our fishermen and the port of Gloucester” planned for Wednesday is aimed at developing a “comprehensive” solution for holding off or effectively dealing with a series of dire May 1 cod limit cuts that many see as sounding a virtual death knell for Gloucester’s and the Northeast’s groundfishing industry.
Organizer Valerie Nelson, a former city councilor and Gloucester port activist, says she hopes the open community forum — set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at The Gloucester House restaurant on Seven Seas Wharf off Rogers Street — “can help build good strategic thinking, and momentum going forward.”
The forum comes as fishing’s May 1 “day of reckoning” over reportedly low fish stocks, as NOAA regional administrator John Bullard has termed it, draws near. Despite pressure to extend the current fishing year’s Gulf of Maine cod limits for a second year under the Magnuson-Stevens Act — limits that have included a 22-percent landing limit cut from 2011, Bullard has held to plans to implement an additional 77-percent Gulf of Maine cod cut for the new fishing year, a figure many fishermen fear will barely cover their bycatch and will essentially stop any targeted fishing for cod in 2013 or 2014.
NOAA’s new limits for the 2013 year, which dawns 23 days from today, include drastic cuts in yellowtail flounder limits and in other stocks as well.
Nelson said the Wednesday forum will include a discussion of issues related to the science that has brought about the new NOAA limits — and has drawn extensive credibility questions from the fishing community. But the forum will also aim to develop a strategy in pushing for comprehensive solutions — including the idea of fishing boats sidelined after May 1 to join NOAA researchers in cooperative efforts to developing more viable stock assessments. NOAA officials have thus far resisted any assessment input by rank-and-file fishermen despite calls to do so from officials up to and including former U.S. Sen. John Kerry, now Secretary of State.
“What we’re discovering is that no one is taking responsibility for figuring out this type of comprehensive strategy,” Nelson said, “but if you look around, there are a lot of people who have a lot of answers, and who are willing to put all shoulders to the wheel.”
Speakers at the Wednesday night event will include:
Vito Giacalone, policy expert with the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition and an official with the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund permit bank; he has also worked extensively in developing sectors, or fishing cooperatives, spawned by NOAA’s controversial catch share management system, launched in 2010.
Damon Cummings, longtime Gloucester waterfront activist who is a retired professor of ocean engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and will note a range of issues and concerns with NOAA’s current scientific practices.
B.G. Brown, a Gloucester fishermen who is at the forefront of the impact over the planned cod cuts, and was one of those featured in the March 11 Times story headlined “Faces of fishing’s disaster.”
Jan Schlichtman of Oceanic Innovation, who will discuss his firm’s partnering with other companies on new products and new fishing boat-processing businesses on the waterfront.
Nelson said the forum will also discuss short-term solutions that NOAA has available for averting the crisis — and has thus far failed to implement.
“We’re not talking about a bailout,” she said, noting that federal lawmakers have been pushing to deliver federal aid to the Northeast groundfishery, which the Department of Commerce recognized last September as a declared “economic disaster.”
“They do emergency measures they can take,” Nelson said, “and they can invest in (cooperative) research that can redeploy our boats. We need to develop a comprehensive strategy that talks abut those and other ideas.
“But right now,” she said, “people have to show up, communicate together, and pull our ideas together — because we do have a lot of people here with a lot of good ideas.
“We can’t leave all of this to our fishermen,” she said. “We all have a stake in this, and we all have a stake in finding solutions.”