By Douglas A. Moser
In response to a question at Monday's live televised debate about how he would support and strengthen the fishing industry, the Democratic candidate for governor said the issues of protecting Georges Bank and fishing where liquefied natural gas terminals are proposed off Gloucester are important.
"There are other social issues that are devastating the fleet as well," he said. "Drug and alcohol addiction is a very serious problem and making those kinds of treatment-on-demand opportunities available is also key for the human element in the fishing industry."
Local fishing advocates said they are "furious" with the assertion that substance abuse has eroded the industry, saying it completely misses the real culprit: fishery mismanagement and poor regulations.
"We're talking about boat buybacks, our future, our homes being lost, and he's talking about us in rehab? We've come too far to have that stone thrown back at us," said Sefatia Romeo, an at-large city councilor and voice of the fishing industry in city government.
Vito Calomo, executive director of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission and chairman of the state's Marine Fisheries Commission and a third-generation fisherman, said he was insulted at the assertion that drugs and alcohol are more prevalent among fishermen than people in other jobs.
"It's a low blow about something he doesn't know much about," said Calomo, who contributed $500 to the campaign of Patrick's Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. "That should resonate up and down the coast."
Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a local attorney who frequently works for the industry, said she could not believe Patrick had said that in a public forum attracting statewide attention.
It was the first gubernatorial debate of the general election season. Healey, Christy Mihos, an independent in the race, and Grace Ross, the Green-Rainbow candidate, also participated.
"I don't even know how to respond," Ferrante said. "It was hurtful and offensive to the industry as a whole to be categorized as such. It's disappointing in terms of how hard the industry has worked to work with scientists, government officials and fishery management to come up with credible plans and on his part it demonstrates an ignorance of the fishing industry and what it's going through right now."
New Bedford fishing proponents also said the comments are unfair and too broad, saying that alcohol and drug abuse occurs in all professions.
Deb Shrader, executive director of Shore Support, a nonprofit fishing advocacy group in New Bedford, wrote a letter to Patrick saying she was "very concerned about a statement (Patrick) made during the debate."
"I know that many boat owners are now requiring drug testing as a part of doing business," Shrader wrote. "My husband, Ronnie Shrader, is captain of two scallop vessels and his company tests people. To make such broad statements as (Patrick) made in the debate is unfair and attack the noble fishermen of our fleet who are hardworking, family men trying to make a living."
Fishing industry advocates here said yesterday the picture of Gloucester as a haven for drug trafficking and addiction is outdated.
"He's living back in the 1970s when Gloucester was a drug port," Romeo said. "We've come a long way to make sure our waterfront works and exists in this community. He owes my fishermen an apology. I've worked for 20 years with fishermen and their families. We have stuck together to fight these regulations. We have worked so hard to get that stigma away. When was the last big drug bust that had to do with the fishermen? In the '70s? Before he represents the smaller communities, he better get down here."
At the harbor yesterday, several people also disagreed with Patrick's comments.
"Not anymore. Twenty years ago, I would say that it was a problem," said Al Cottone, 40, a Gloucester groundfisherman who owns the Sabrina Maria. "But now, there are not a lot of fishermen. All the fishermen now are boat owners and family guys who don't get caught up in those. It's the regulations that's bringing the fishing industry down. Drugs and alcohol have nothing to do with it."
Jake Hammond, 27, a tuna buyer with DFC International, said he thinks drugs and alcohol are an issue among fishermen, but added that the problem is a symptom of the industry's hardship, not its cause.
"A good percentage of fishermen have a drug or alcohol problem," he said. "Heroin was a lot worse 10 years ago, but you know there is not much you can do. It's a private matter. The government can't do a lot about it. The government needs to address the bigger issue, such as the fishing industry as a whole. Things such as bad regulations are hurting business. And economical depression is directly connected to drug and alcohol abuse."
A spokeswoman for Patrick's campaign did not return phone messages seeking comment yesterday afternoon. Healey's spokeswoman, Amy Lambiaso, said Healey could not immediately comment.
Correspondent Nesli Orhon contributed to this report.
What was said
The following is a transcript from Monday's gubernatorial debate, hosted by Fox 25 News and the Boston Herald and moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.
Jasper White of Jasper White's Summer Shack: My question to the candidates is, "What will you, as governor, do to protect our farmers and fishermen while at the same time promoting sustainable fishing and agriculture?"
Independent candidate Christy Mihos: Well, No.1 is I will appoint a secretary of agriculture, which will help our farmers, our fishing industry here, and I will work against Cape Wind so that those fishermen can fish out there and have a decent industry. Fishing has long been part of this commonwealth. I live on the Cape now, I know how important it is. I'll work with the hook fishermen and all of them to get this done.
Green-Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross: Well, you know, we have to look at the agriculture in this state has suffered greatly. The fishing industry has also suffered greatly and these are key elements of the industry in this state and the jobs that need to be provided. I think that there's no question that what we're seeing is that those particular areas of economic development are not getting the attention that a bunch of more, citified maybe, forms of economic development have gotten attention to. And what we know as we look at rolling out our blueprint for the environment to deal with global warming, we have to increase agricultural and fishing and those kinds of things.
Republican candidate Kerry Healey: There's no one here who has worked as hard as I have to make sure that our fishing industry here in Massachusetts continues to thrive. I've been down in Washington fighting against the new regulations that are genuinely putting our fishermen right out of business right now. They are incredibly strict regulations that are going to ruin the fish industry and I share Jasper White's concern about that. I've been down in Washington. Believe it or not, I agree with you on this one Christy - I agree with you that Cape Wind is a bad idea, it's in the wrong place. I love renewable energy and I like wind energy, but it's in the wrong place and it's going to hurt our fishing industry and that's why I oppose it.
Democratic candidate Deval Patrick: Well, I will first say that I think we can all agree Jasper's cooking is phenomenal, really terrific. First of all, I commend the lieutenant governor for getting engaged in those regulatory fights in Washington. That is important, both to the Gloucester fleet and to the New Bedford fleet. The issues of protection of Georges Bank to the fishing opportunities in the areas where we're talking about LNG off of Gloucester are incredibly important. There are other social issues that are devastating the fleet as well. Drug and alcohol addiction is a very serious problem and making those kinds of treatment-on-demand opportunities available is also key for the human element in the fishing industry.