FishOn: Ukraine takes Coast Guard cutter castoffs

Courtesy photo/Christine Bolzan, the new chief operating officer at the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute

So, you may have noticed that the mighty FishOn gang bagled last week's column. Shockingly, some people who do not know us expressed concern. Those that do know us appeared relieved. With our readership, you just never know. 

Some (looking at you, Mr. James Pratt) thought even as late as Thursday that we were on vacation. Vacation? We get vacation?

Others thought we'd fallen ill. We now understand the word "hiatus" applies a rather broad construct. Allow us to frame our absence with all the truth we can muster:

What was the question?

Sure, we could let slip that we work as a holistic assassin for a foreign intelligence service (oops) and we had a spot of work in a country we can't name, but sounds an awful lot like Ukraine (which is very nice this time of year as long as you're not the sitting U.S. ambassador).

The truth, however, is far less exotic: The sirocco that invaded Cape Ann two weeks ago left us busy bees chronicling all the tatters left behind. We spent a couple days — including Friday, usually a holy day reserved for finishing the compilation of info and penning FishOn — immersed in damage reportage while trying unsuccessfully to fight off our own bronchial invasion.

Final score: Bronchial infection 2, FishOn 0. The series now shifts to our head and throat.

There, riddle solved. Everybody good? Excellent.

To the stuff:

Join the Ukrainian navy. See the Black Sea. And Russians

So it turns out we have been sending military aid to Ukraine after all, even without any apparent quid pro quo (Latin for "do our dirty work").

According to the website of the U.S. Naval Institute, the U.S. has shipped to Ukraine two retired Coast Guard cutters — cutters formerly known as USCG Cushing and USCG Drummond — for which we no longer have room in the boathouse.

The two former Island-class cutters arrived last Monday in Odessa as part of the effort to help beef up Ukraine's navy with mothballed American ships.

"The two cutters, renamed by Ukraine Slavyansk (P190) and Starobilsk (P191), are the first in a planned deal to send four Island-class hulls to Ukraine, as part of a U.S. program sending excess military equipment to other nations," the story stated. "The general cargo ship Ocean Freedom delivering the two cutters arrived at the Black Sea port of Odessa, according to Istanbul-based ship-spotters and (the UNIAN independent news agency)."

According to the Ukrainian navy, its sailors last month completed training aboard the cutters in Baltimore, where the Ukrainians also were offered the mothballed Orioles as part of the deal. Once informed that Frank and Brooks Robinson were not part of the deal, they wisely declined. Len Sakata just wouldn't do it.

"We aim at convincing the Kremlin of our determination to protect the Ukrainian coast, just like we are defending our land in Donbas, our sovereignty, freedom and democracy," Petro Poroshenko, the former Ukrainian president, said last year after the deal was announced. "Solidarity, unity and support will enable us to protect this thin red line from the aggressor not with bullets, but with our determination to act."

Bravo, Petro. But you still might need a couple bullets and a few more ships. Mother Russia is the original bad news bear.

Lobster boom? Out go the lights (maybe)

Honestly, is there any good news coming out of the Gulf of Maine?

We've got the decline and fall of the North Atlantic right whales and the ongoing contretemps with the lobster industry over new whale protections.

The once-iconic cod stock, according to NOAA Fisheries, will not be rebuilt by 2024, as hoped, because of overfishing. The gulf's waters continue to warm faster than almost any other place on the planet and a northern shrimp hasn't crossed our path in almost five years.

Well, buckle up. There's more.

A new study published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications concludes that the Maine lobster boom that began in 1990 may be coming to a screeching halt. It says fishermen in eastern Maine could see landings drop 20% to 40% in the next five years. More alarming, the study said landings could decline by as much as 90% in the eastern edges of Penobscott Bay.

"The sky is not falling, but we are returning to normal, to the levels of the late 1990s and early 2000s," Noah Oppenheimer, the executive director of San Francisco's Institute for Fisheries Resources and the leader of the new study that also included the University of Maine and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, told the Press Herald newspaper in Portland. "Fish buyers, fishermen, fish processors and policymakers can start thinking about where this is going to be impacting people the most."

Lobster landings in Maine during the boom quintupled, peaking in 2016 at 132.6 million pounds.

Industry stakeholders and other researchers, however, cautioned that the rapidly changing climate conditions in the gulf make it a dicey proposition to try to predict precisely what's happening with the bugs.

"This is a cautionary time for anybody in the wild-caught market because of the changes in environmental conditions," Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association told the paper. "But I think the industry is at a place where they're still seeing tons of tiny lobsters out there."

We'd like to thank the academy

You may have read our story on Friday in the Gloucester Daily Times and online at about Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito's visit Thursday to the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, the educational affiliate of the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute.

It was a boffo day. The academy students and staff were fantastic and Polito obviously was impressed with the facility and curriculum during one of her visits around the state to commemorate STEM Week in Massachusetts.

We also got the opportunity to meet Christine Bolzan, GMGI's new chief operating officer. Bolzan, who replaces Chris Munkholm, has a pretty shiny resume. She's worked at Harvard Business School, JP Morgan and most recently was a director at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

We plan to see sit down soon with Bolzan for a more in-depth feature on what brought her to Gloucester and her vision and role in GMGI's future. Also, whether she, like Science Director Andre Bodnar, has a dad that played in the NHL.

Bodnar's dad — centerman August "Gus" Bodnar — won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in 1943 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and went on to win two Stanley Cups with the Leafs. He played 67 games for the 1954-55 Bruins and then retired.

Quick quiz: What two players on that 1954-55 roster later coached the Bruins?

Quiz answer: Milt Schmidt (1954-55 to 1965-66) and Don Cherry (1974-75 to 1978-79). Hall of Famer Schmidt played 776 games for the Bruins. Cherry played one. At least it was a playoff game against the Canadiens in 1954-55. With Schmidt as his head coach.

As always, no fish were harmed in the making of this column.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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