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September 25, 2013

Editorial: Prelim harbor report spotlights problems with DPA mandates

Kevin Hively, principal with the Rhode Island-based Ninigret Partners consulting firm carrying out a grant-funded survey of Gloucester’s waterfront, didn’t specifically mention the state’s Designated Port Area mandates when he noted that the future of Gloucester’s harbor may be “more about what you can do than what you want to do.”

He didn’t have to.

But as the city’s Harbor Plan Committee gathers tonight at City Hall to discuss Ninigret Partners’ preliminary report, its members and other city officials should recognize the clear signs that, without an easing of at least some key provisions of the DPA — if not a request to lift it altogether — the city, its residents and waterfront property owners have too little control and too few options as they look to adapt to changing conditions along the harbor and elsewhere.

In outlining his firm’s preliminary findings last week, Hively reported specific numbers: there are 132 individual parcels within the DPA’s boundaries — “a lot of little parcels, most of them less than an acre,” Hively said.

But then some of the numbers raise questions: The average monthly private employment includes 2,600 jobs generating $104 million annually in wages, the survey found. And adjusted employment figures show the commercial fishing industry represents the largest workforce with 391 workers; that’s ahead of seafood processing and preparation, with 379 jobs, and tourism and restaurants, at 545.

But many of those fishing industry jobs — both on the boats, or on land at the waterfront — are fading fast under the residual effects of NOAA’s dire catch limits for this year and next, and while the survey found 384 vessels with active permits — excluding lobster boats, where, for some reason, the data was “incomplete” — the fact is many of those boats and fishermen are not active, even if the permits are. And too many permits have virtually no value, since NOAA’s limits have essentially shut down the available groundfishing catch.

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