By Sean Horgan
---- — One proposal calls for expanding the nearby whiting fishery and elevating that seafood’s culinary profile.
Another seeks to experiment with methods of growing new shellfish in Massachusetts waters, and a third looks to take advantage of the exploding international medical market for the chitin that comes from lobster and crab shells.
Those are just a few of the more than a half-dozen grant proposals assembled by Gloucester-based maritime entrepreneurs and partnerships in pursuit of federal fishing monies under a new Saltonstall-Kennedy Act grant program.
Considered collectively, the proposals are as varied as they are innovative, offering a glimpse of some of the commercial forces that may help shape Gloucester’s waterfront as the city moves in earnest into the wide curve of the 21st century.
“It’s really exciting to see this kind of energy and these kinds of ideas coming out of Gloucester,” said Sarah Garcia, the city’s harbor planner. “These people worked really hard on these applications and it shows.”
The deadline for the grant applications was last Sunday, and the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA and the grant program, had said that successful candidates would begin receiving funds in January 2014.
That schedule now is in flux. The review process for awarding the money — projected at between $5 million and $10 million — is held hostage by the partial shutdown of the federal government.
But the specter of a delay, while disappointing, still doesn’t diminish the breadth of the local proposals.
Some of the applications look to expand current business models into new markets. Some look to create new markets and some — such as the proposal by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, in conjunction with four Gloucester fishermen — looks to more efficiently take advantage of traditional commercial fishing.
“We just want the option of not going out of business,” said Nazz Sanfilippo, captain and owner of the boat F/V Cat Eyes. Sanfilippo, along with Gloucester fishing boat owners Sam Novello, Tommy Testaverde and Joe Randazzo, helped initiate the proposal.
Their proposal seeks about $200,000 for research into expanding the harvesting of whiting by opening a currently-closed portion of the fishery near Stellwagen Bank grounds.
“Sam came to us with an idea to access whiting a little bit closer to home at a time when whiting abundance is apparently quite high,” said Steve Eayrs of the Gulf of Maine institute. “So we put our heads together to see if there is anything we can do to develop a small-mesh exemption area in a new area closer to Gloucester and Scituate, and allow these guys to not have to travel so far and still catch whiting.”
The proposal also includes a marketing element that would help raise the profile of whiting as a choice for seafood consumers, thereby strengthening its price to give fishermen a better return at the docks.
Ocean Crest Seafoods, parent company of the successful Neptune’s Harvest line of marine-based fertilizers, submitted two applications, both of which seek to build on the company’s track record of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The first seeks a little more than $395,000 to research and develop the process and facilities for extracting the versatile chitin from lobster and crab shells for later use in the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
The chitin, which helps strengthen the cell walls of crustacean shells, has a growing number of medical uses, including as a surgical thread and in artificial skin and blood vessels. It also has industrial and commercial uses.
“What we want to do in Gloucester is take the bigger chunks of shell and extract the chitin for pharmaceuticals and to sell to hospitals here in Boston and then the smaller chunks for fertilizer and the finest particle for feed,” said Ann Molloy, one of the owners of Ocean Crest and Neptune’s Harvest. “We want to do it all right here.”
The company’s second application seeks about $145,000 to develop a new type of gel-like lobster and fish bait from liquefied fish.
Other proposals for the Saltonstall-Kennedy grant monies include:
An application by Cape Ann Sea Food, in partnership with Endicott College, for about $350,000 for new processing equipment and marketing and branding of under-utilized fish species.
A city-led application, along with Salem State University’s Northeast Aquaculture Center and Maritime Gloucester seeking $260,000 to team up with displaced groundfishermen to experiment with growing new shellfish product in Bay State waters.
A collaboration among the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Mortillaro’s Lobster Co. and the nonprofit Ocean Alliance, based at the restored Tarr & Wonson Paint Factory, to test floating island technologies and environmentally sound “green concrete” that could improve water quality and fish habitats while also helping to sustain Gloucester’s working fishing industry and waterfront.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT