When the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund was established in 2007, the Gloucester fleet already had transitioned away from its sizeable offshore groundfish fleet to a largely inshore fleet dependent on cod and other groundfish species in the Gulf of Maine.
More than a decade later, the demise of the Gloucester inshore fleet continues, fueled by regulation, environmental restrictions and the simple demographics of an aging and declining workforce.
“The aging-out of the fleet and attrition have really taken a toll,” said Vito Giacalone, GFCPF executive director. “We’ve now experienced two generations of fishermen who saw no value in continuing to fish.”
The seascape has changed dramatically and now the GFCPF, best known as a source for preserving and leasing permit privileges to Gloucester fishing vessels, is looking toward the future and its role in helping reshape the Gloucester fishing community.
The non-profit organization, with the assistance of U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, became one of seven organizations in the country this week to receive fisheries innovation grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The GFCPF received $63,500, including a matching contribution of $31,500 from its own funds, to begin developing a new strategic plan to redefine its role in “preserving and promoting a vibrant commercial fishing industry presence in the port of Gloucester.”
Giacalone said the grant money will be used to conduct focus groups, host workshops and ultimately write the new strategic plan that, according to a supporting letter from Moulton, will serve as a guide for the GFCPF into the next decade.
“The grant will allow the GFCPF to conduct focus groups consisting of fishermen, bankers and other community stakeholders and host collaborative workshops to help draft and finalize the contents of the plan,” Moulton wrote to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Giacalone on Wednesday said the focus on the future might be steeped in something of a return to the past by utilizing permit access as an incentive to get larger groundfish boats — roughly 65 to 90 feet long — more involved in the fishery.
“We’re now seeing more opportunities for fishing exist for larger boats with more geographic range than the inshore fleet,” Giacalone said. “We need a balanced fishing community. We need boats, large and small. But to attract larger vessels, you need good solid crews and experienced captains. And those are much more scarce today.”
The infusion of larger boats, he said, would diversify the fleet and help sustain the remaining shoreside infrastructure along Gloucester’s waterfront, creating additional economic activity that would help preserve as many dayboats as possible.
“We need to start in a place where we can be most effective,” he said.
The permit bank opened in February 2008, when the fishery operated under a days-at-sea management plan.
It was established using $12 million in mitigation money from two liquid natural gas companies that planned terminals just outside Gloucester Harbor. The money was used to buy available fishing permits and lease their days-at-sea to Gloucester fishermen and other boats landing their catch in Gloucester.
Then came the sector system in 2010 and the permit bank shifted to leasing fishing quota attached to the permits it held.
Giacalone said the GFCPF’s permit program has been responsible for adding an average of 3 million to 5 million pounds of groundfish landings annually in Gloucester. He said the relative annual value of those landings is about $5 million to $7 million and they produce $9 million to $12 million of downstream economic activity.
In its 2016 tax form 990, the GFCPF listed net assets of $11.27 million, up from $11.05 million at the end of the previous year.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.