Next week, we’ll hear shouts of Viva San Pietro as fishermen and their families carry the turquoise-robed statue of St. Peter through the winding streets of our city by the sea.
The procession is a big part of Fiesta, honoring the patron saint of fishermen in America’s oldest fishing port.
I first witnessed the celebration with my friends Angela and John Sanfilippo many years ago. The day was so hot that people took shelter under umbrellas during a morning mass in Gloucester’s St. Peter’s Square. I remember the withering heat, the aromas of spicy Italian sausages from carnival booths (where I lost $10 tossing hoops over elusive prizes), and I remember the Ferris wheel rising over the gaily-flagged fishing boats as I sought to focus on the Cardinal’s somber homily about Peter and the fishermen.
The incongruity of it all, the comingling of the sacred and profane, dazzled like the sun. I’d never witnessed anything like this celebration anywhere in America — certainly not on my beat as a maritime reporter in New England.
That was 20 years ago. I’ve since made Gloucester my home, drawn in part by Fiesta, the city’s rich fishing culture, and strong community, all now threatened by draconian federal fishing restrictions instituted May 1. The allowable catch of codfish in the Gulf of Maine has been slashed by 78 percent, and that of haddock, flounders, and other groundfish critical to Gloucester, by more than 50 percent. These severe cuts follow earlier catch reductions also aimed at rebuilding diminished groundfish stocks.
The new regulations will destroy a way of life that has supported Gloucester for 400 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which implemented them, did not adequately consider their economic impacts on Gloucester and other New England fishing communities.
What’s more, the science on which the cuts are based appears shaky. As a writer on both fisheries and the environment, I’ve not always agreed with fishermen. Now I do. For this reason, I support Attorney General Martha Coakley’s recent lawsuit against NOAA.