I’d like to get the conversation started about how the fisheries economic disaster relief should be invested. Over the past few months, since the disaster was declared by the U.S. Department of Commerce, many ideas have been circulated. We’ve boiled down our ideas into a 5-point plan that I’d like to share today.
The first point in the plan for mitigating the fisheries economic disaster is direct aid to fishermen. There must be some component of the federal assistance that goes straight to the fishermen who’ve been harmed by the regulations that have led to the economic disaster declaration. What the aid is, and how it should be structured, should be driven by the fishermen themselves. We will look to the Gloucester Fisheries Commission to assist in obtaining input from fishermen on how to best deliver direct aid to the fishermen.
The second point is money for unfunded NOAA mandates. There are many expensive mandates placed on fishermen. The observer program where an individual goes out on the fishing boat to keep an eye on the catch is one example. Fishermen are expected to pick up this expense and what they end up doing to cover this cost is to perhaps go out with one less crew member, which can make the trip more dangerous than needed.
Porpoise pingers are another example of a NOAA mandate. Porpoise pingers are important — they are a device placed on nets that “ping,” which alerts a porpoise to swim away from the net. This program is very effective in protecting the porpoises and if viewed as a partnership between the fishermen, the regulators and environmentalists, there should be recognition that the cost should be shared.
The third point in the plan for mitigating the fisheries economic disaster is a significant increase in collaborative fisheries research. The underpinning of this type of research is that the scientists and the fishermen work together in scientific observation and inquiry. Fishermen are great observers of what is going on in the oceans. A few years ago, the codfish stock was thought of as “abundant” and only two years later, it was thought of as vanished.
The fishermen will tell you that the cod simply swam after their feed, and that the testing methods and locales are not keeping up with the migratory patterns of fish related to climate change. Taking advantage of the fishermen’s knowledge with the intention of improving the science is probably the single-most important investment that could be made with the disaster relief.
The fourth point is the concept of programs and investments for protecting the assets of the commercial fishing port infrastructure. This should include the physical infrastructure, e.g., docks, and wharfs, as well as the shoreside business infrastructure, e.g., ice, fuel, railways. Conceivably, the disaster aid could save the fishermen, and save the industry, but without a working port in which to do business, those efforts would be futile.
The fifth and last point in the plan for mitigating the fisheries economic disaster is the concept of programs and investments for diversifying the port economy in ways compatible with the fishing industry. In Gloucester, commercial fishing will remain as the core of our activity along the working waterfront, but we need to expand the types of jobs that are within the working port. The fishing industry, and our economy, needs a buffer against the cyclical nature of any single industry. A diverse and compatible economy is that buffer.
I always say that every fish caught and landed in Gloucester is caught in a sustainable manner. That has been the whole point of the fishing regulations that have caused the economic disaster. Disaster relief provides us with the opportunity, if invested wisely, to save the fishermen, the industry, the port assets, and build sustainability within the economic model itself in our coastal communities.
Carolyn Kirk is the mayor of Gloucester.