The news that owner/president Scott Memhard has put his Cape Pond Ice property — long a mainstay of Gloucester’s waterfront – up for sale certainly represents another dose of bad news for the marine industrial piece of the city’s economy.
Yet it’s also a telling sign of the overall economic impact that the drastic cuts in cod limits and other fishing stock allocations for the new fishing year that begins May 1 will have on Gloucester and other fishing communities around New England.
And it offers the most compelling reminder yet that the NOAA-generated “economic disaster recognized by the Department of Commerce and squarely confronting the fishing industry is not “just” about hurting fishermen and their boat crews. It is a true economic calamity that will have a wide-reaching effect on this city’s overall economy, from dealing dire business hits to not one but two waterfront seafood auction houses, to hurting a tourism trade built upon one of the nation’s last, authentic working fishing ports, and, yes, driving down an ice supply business that has gone hand-in-hand with the Gloucestermen of the seas for well over a century.
To his credit, Memhard wasted few words in explaining what has led him to put this iconic Gloucester waterfront business up for sale; he said the decision by NOAA against allowing the industry a second year of relief via interim catch levels has clearly forced his hand — and it’s difficult to argue with him.
Over the last 20 years, Memhard and Cape Pond have seen the company’s fish ice sales fall by as much as 90 percent, from 40,000 tons a year to 4,000 tons a year. And with several Gloucester fishermen talking openly of being forced to stay on the piers for the coming fishing year, the simple fact is that businesses like Cape Pond Ice will likely have few customers to whom to sell. A first year of interim limits allowed under the still-questionable stock projections crafted by NOAA trimmed the limits in Gulf of Maine cod by only 22 percent, but with allowable landings slashed by 77 percent for this coming year, fishermen will likely not be able to target Gulf of Maine cod at all since the limits may account only for the bycatch, or discards, of cod taken up when fishermen are targeting other species.
Cape Pond Ice does draw other income from beyond its fishing supplies — including a novelty business based upon T-shirts, caps and other paraphernalia touting the company as “the coolest guys around” as featured in the film “The Perfect Storm.” Still, the fishing industry has long been Cape Pond’s core business, and the city frankly won’t have much left to show visitors coming to see the way of life portrayed in “the Perfect Storm,” either, if much of the fishing industry is closed up for the summer.
It doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Despite the claims of NOAA regional administrator John Bullard, based right here in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park, there is in fact nothing in the Magnuson-Stevens Act precluding him and his job-killing agency from declaring a second year of interim limits at the 22 percent mark. That, of course, is the way congressional leaders, who put the law in place, have seen it, too. Yet Bullard, basing his position on legal advice from NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer and her notorious anti-fishing agenda — refuses to grant the second year because he and Schiffer claim Magnuson doesn’t specifically allow it.
It is because of that shameful game of semantics that Gloucester’s fishing families and now one of its most recognizable businesses are on the verge of cashing in their chips. And it is in that context that our federal lawmakers must put a hold on all NOAA and Commerce budget allocations until the federal government makes good on its declared “economic disaster” in the Northeast groundfishery and provides the funding and regulatory relief needed to address it.
The Cape Pond Ice case shows once and for all that this economic disaster is not “just” about fishing. It’s about the entire city’s economy – and a rogue agency of our own federal government should not be allowed to bring it down.