Fishing, Gloucester's forever No. 1 occupation, could be easily be an $80-million industry in five to six years, according to a coalition of citizens.
Organized under the name Citizens for Gloucester Harbor, the group numbering about a dozen directors, staged a two-hour, multi-media lecture and rally Monday night before a full house in the Kyrouz Auditorium of City Hall.
The facts and those economic projections — presented by Vito Giacalone, a fisherman, businessman, harbor property owner, industry executive and government critic — were wrapped in lyrical appeals, visions for the harbor and political cant.
Members took turns condemning condos — even though none are proposed or allowed within the Designated Port Area, a state boundary that encompasses most of the Inner Harbor. But they reiterated they have no use for a waterfront hotel, which Mayor Carolyn Kirk has identified as essential to a diversified port organized around the revitalized fishing industry. And they repeatedly identified the Gloucester Marine Railway in Rocky Neck and Cape Pond Ice as pillars of the fishing industry that must be sustained.
Scott Memhard, who owns Cape Pond Ice, described that sentiment — matched with the group's stated opposition to loosening restrictions of the DPA — as "talking out of both sides of their mouth."
Memhard said his business has suffered with the contraction of the fishing industry, but his plant inside the DPA on Harbor Cove is severely restricted in the allowable diversifications.
"I can't sell enough T-shirts to compensate," he said in an interview.
Viking Gustafson, the general manager of the railway, declined comment, but during the spring forums organized by the mayor to elicit ideas for the Harbor Plan, she said that business also needs more flexibility than allowed under the DPA.
The Citizens For Gloucester Harbor presentation began with a 20-minute documentary film by Gordon Baird and Marcia Hart, then moved to four presentations — the first by author Peter Anastas, who made the case that the harbor was neither "moribund" not "stagnant."
Anastas, along with former City Councilor Valerie Nelson and fisherman Russell Sherman, said the harbor was ideally suited to host marine biotechnology, research and marine manufacturing compatible with fishing.
This prescription does not include a waterfront hotel, according to Citizens' group members.
Nelson told the Times that a core value of the group is its opposition to any changes in the DPA and construction of a hotel on the waterfront. She described a hotel as "the camel's nose under the tent" that would lead to gentrification and then the marginalization of the fishing industry as has happened in Newport, R.I.
Nelson and other speakers Monday night acknowledged the need to sustain the railway and ice company, without which the fishing fleet could not cover structural maintenance and service, and obtain the ideal preservant for fish.
The group's opposition to any flexibility in the DPA conflicts directly with a major initiative by Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who has scored what many see as a breakthrough with the state's acknowledgement in writing to her that it's ready to change the rigid DPA rules and perhaps even modernize how it works to protect the marine industrial nature of the harbor.
The mayor has circulated a draft harbor plan to stakeholders, and according to community development director Sarah Buck, should be making a presentation to the council in early January.
The draft parallels many of the goals in the Citizens for Gloucester Harbor core values statement, and Kirk has said she would work with a document the citizens' group submitted earlier this fall. But Kirk's draft significantly also recognizes the pleas of more than 30 waterfront property owners for a more flexible set of rules governing business within the DPA. With Kirk's support, they've proposed to expand commercial docking space on their property with subsidies from larger expansion of recreational docking space. Kirk's draft Harbor Plan calls the property owners' plan "innovative."
The Citizens for Gloucester Harbor railed again and again Monday night against hotels, condos, yachts and gentrification.
Giacalone said that, even with the strict federal controls on the size of catches, Gloucester was still the No. 1 groundfish port in total landings, with 19 million pounds in 2007, or 35 percent of the total for the entire East Coast.
"The near term will be difficult," he said. But he added, "the total estimated yield from a fully rebuilt groundfish fishery is estimated at 327 million pounds by 2014.
"If Gloucester could retain an average historical share of 25 percent," he continued, "local landings would be in excess of 75 million pounds."
At an average price of $1.10 per pound in 2007 dollars, that would produce an $80-million fishery, he calculated.
Richard Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.