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March 7, 2013

Editorial: Cape Pond Ice's plight shows impact of fishery losses

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.

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