I want to say something about Cable TV.
All the rock 'n roll in the paper about the prices and devices of Comcast dropping channels, requiring set-top boxes and changing the digital deal have absolutely nothing to do with the Cape Ann Cable TV station up at Blackburn Park.
Many folks might not remember that Comcast split off the public access Channel 12 and, for more than a year, it has been an independent entity with no connection to its former corporate owner. It is owned by the people. The Gloucester Daily Times has never been more of a community newspaper than as be the medium for this controversy through grassroots letters from readers who started and answered the issue. More writers joined the fray, and I'm not sure we've heard the last of it. The interesting thing is that there was not a story on the issue. It sprang totally from the community — and your community's newspaper truly performed its job as the free press.
In a likewise manner, your community Cable TV station was approached by a small band of citizens who wanted to make a film about saving the harbor. They didn't have cameras or editing machines or even a producer. But this film sprang from a community group concerned with the pace of alternatives to the fishing industry and wanting to ensure that "the other side of the story" was told.
Slowly but surely, a team formed from the TV volunteers in Gloucester and interviews and filming began. Myths and truths were the targets of the effort, the chief myth being the old chestnut "the fishing industry is dead and will never be back to full strength" and "the entire fishing industry should be located at the State Fish Pier and let the rest go for recreational boats." Fishermen and people of the harbor took the filmers around the harbor to hear and see the truth at water level of the emerging new story of the harbor. The camera doesn't lie. What it saw were boats tied up five and six deep and many, many boats newly arrived from the other New England ports to make Gloucester their new home. Transom after transom reading Bath, Maine; Portsmouth, NH; Marblehead, Portland, Beverly, Newburyport et al have left their home ports as those harbors have closed down as services have disappeared.
It's a spiral as boats leave, services leave and more boats leave. Gloucester Harbor still has a major ice company, a synchro lift, a marine railways, fish auctions, Rose's industrial marine yard, welders, pipefitters, machinists, you name it: it's still cookin' here. And as these new boats process into town, the demand for dockage is outstripping the supply. As Angela SanFilippo says in the film, she has fishermen calling her from up and down the coast asking her to get them into Gloucester and she can't.
The degree of the myth of the disappearing fish is also addressed. As Capt. Russell Sherman of the Lady Jane confirms, "the fish are there" and "can be got at." Vito Giacalone makes no bones about the size of the fishery and Gloucester's potential share. By 2010, the groundfish will allow strong catches if the fishermen can hold on. He fears corporate interests will then want to swoop in on buying permits and the ensuing profits. Again, "the fish are there now."
Another classic myth is the holes at the daytime docks that the public and tourists see throughout the daylight hours represent a dying industry. They represent an industry that is out on the water during working hours. So it is with the fish auction, deserted at midday of boats, but jammed at dawn and while unloading in the evening. At noon, you'd think the harbor was out of business. But if you row through the state fish pier interior when they are not out working, the place is mobbed.
Does that mean that other marine related professions have no place? No, say marine biologists in the film from ongoing biotech companies. Gloucester would be the perfect place to tie in this industry as Portland and Woods Hole are now tied in. Molly Lutcavage and Lynn Klotz speak highly of our harbors chances of gaining that business. Iain Kerr makes a wonderful appearance, truly excited on his Ocean Alliance's relocation to the Paint Factory. "This harbor has reached a tipping point." he says. "It is such an exciting time for this emerging and natural mix of waterfront businesses."
Lenny Linquata of the Gloucester House makes the case for expanded wastewater facilities to bring processing and cutting houses back to the harbor. Phil Bolger makes the case for a new generation fishing fleet that can co-exist with high fuel coasts by more efficient hull designs and engines. Viking Gustavson, Tom Ellis, Damon Cummings, Vito Giacalone, Peter Parisi, Henry Ferrini, Ken Riaf, Peter Anastas, Jay MacLauchlan, Joe Garland, an anonymous dock torch welder, Ann Molloy of Neptune's Harvest and Angela SanFilippo all offer their perspectives on the vibrancy of the harbor. Over all, runs the expertise and hopeful perspective of Russell Sherman — who talks the talk and walks the walk of the Gloucester fisherman — It is not as depressing as it seemed just recently whatever you read.
It was a team effort and a community groundswell. The film is 30 minutes and is called "Saving Gloucester Harbor — the Truths and the Myths." I have offered my time slot for "Chicken Shack" for it to be shown on Channel 12 (because it is the best time slot in the week) — Thursday, Oct. 9, at 9 p.m. It will repeat the next week at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16 because it is that important.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is founder of Billboard's Musician Magazine and the West End Theater, and is producer of the "Gloucester Chicken Shack" TV show.