Paul J. Diodati knew he was venturing into something of a maelstrom when he traveled to Gloucester on Monday night to listen to the concerns of local fishermen and stakeholders, while offering some fashion of a state of the state fisheries assessment at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries offices on Emerson Avenue.
“Gloucester is the epicenter of the hardworking groundfish fleet,” Diodati said after the meeting, which was attended by about 40 fishermen, as well as state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante. “It’s also the center of the independent nature that comes from being a fishermen. This is where the family tradition of fishing comes from.”
But Diodati noticed a difference Monday night within the ranks of Gloucester stakeholders: The proximity to the true depths of the crisis seems to have stripped away the lingering communal desire to stay mired in an unceasing debate over the evil quality of federal regulations and propelled local stakeholders to a new and singular focus on developing a survival plan for the industry before it’s too late.
“There wasn’t really any discussion on how bad the regulations have been,” Diodati said in a follow-up interview yesterday. “They’re so far beyond that. They’re at the point of how are we going to survive and who will remain and who can be healed.”
Diodati and the elected officials in attendance Monday night received detailed suggestions from the stakeholders — especially fishermen — during the two-hour meeting. Shoreside stakeholders, such as Ann Molloy from Neptune’s Harvest, also spoke about the importance of including portside, fishing-related businesses in the disbursement formula.
“We’re hurting, too,” said Molloy, whose Fort-based company uses what’s left of fish, once the fillets are removed, to make fertilizers.
Speaker after speaker urged the officials to concentrate on direct subsidies to fishermen and crews in all assistance coming from the state or federal government, such as the $75 million in national disaster aid to fishermen and fishing communities allocated in the most recent federal budget process.
“The top priority should be taking care of the crews,” said Capt. Richard Burgess, who owns several commercial fishing boats. “The crews need money because they aren’t making any money and there’s nobody behind them looking to get into this industry. Nobody in their right mind is looking to get into this industry right now.”
The speakers also stressed the importance of a trickle-down disbursement that would result in the money going directly to stakeholders rather than to fund any portion of the federal or state bureaucracy.
“You’re a Republican,” Mike Polisson, captain of the fishing vessel Crazy Greek, said to Tarr. “You can understand trickle-down economics. Let it trickle down to the fishermen.”
There also was discussion on the importance of rationalizing the fisheries by re-scaling them to accommodate both the business sector management approach and the current strict regulations without reducing capacity.
Also discussed was a possible buyout plan, which would allow those looking to exit the industry to sell their boats and fishing permits through a state-administered grant program, and plans that would lease idle fishing boats for collaborative research and experiments.
“What I heard was a clear preference for spending money to keep the fleet moving and fishing rather than compensating them to be idle,” Tarr said. “We have to find a way to keep the boats moving.”
The meeting, one of four Diodati has planned statewide in advance of a report to the Massachusetts Legislature in March or April, did not offer any specific details on plans to disburse the $75 million in federal disaster aid beyond Diodati saying his agency was ready to assume any role necessary to get the money into the communities.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT