The forklifts didn't stop for U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton on Tuesday afternoon when the congressman visited a Gloucester lobster wholesaler to talk about the challenges facing the Massachusetts lobster industry. But that didn't seem to deter the congressman.
As Moulton toured the tank room and docks at the Cape Ann Lobstermen co-op in East Gloucester with co-owner Tessa Browne, the blur of activity continued, the constant beep-beep of forklifts serving as the soundtrack to the discussion on the double-squeeze facing the industry — expanded Chinese and European tariffs internationally and new protections for the North Atlantic right whales here at home.
Moulton asked Browne, who owns and operates the business with her husband Ryan, how much drag the tariffs have created for the lobster dealer. She quickly offered him a palpable example. Moving to the larger of the two lobster tanks, she explained how the bugs were stored by size.
Not coincidentally, she said, the largest lobsters — much coveted by the Chinese — now are the slowest sellers.
"Up and down the coast, all the bigger sizes are backed up," Browne said. "The market is flooded with them, even in Canada."
And that has dampened prices. The boat prices over this past winter were $2 lower than the previous year, Browne said.
Moulton, a Democratic candidate for president, seized the moment to mention the legislation he filed in June to expand federal disaster relief to fishermen harmed by the retaliatory tariffs generated by the trade war.
"The bill, which has a co-sponsor in the Senate, would help lobstermen like Trump has helped the farmers," Moulton said. "Trump has no idea what these trade policies mean for working Americans. If you see him talking about them on television, he's clueless."
The discussion then turned to the new protections proposed by the federal Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team to reduce entanglements and mortalities of the imperiled right whales by 60 percent, largely through a significant reduction of vertical trawl lines and some gear modifications.
Moulton asked Browne about the new measures and what she envisioned as their impact on lobstermen and dealers.
"It could be devastating to all the fishermen here," she said. "All the fishermen here like the whales and want to protect them. But it seems like nobody is listening to them."
"The (Trump) administration apparently isn't listening," Moulton said.
"Eventually, I think a lot of fishermen are going to revolt if they feel like they're going to be pushed out of business," Browne said.
Moulton then ventured onto familiar terrain — the lack of universally accepted science in the development of federal fishery management plans. It's a topic he first encountered soon after being elected to Congress in 2014, when the New England groundfish industry enlisted his assistance while in the throes of its own fishing crisis.
His message now is the same as his message then.
"We need to be able to get on the same page on the science," Moulton said. "Fishermen are not anti-science. But they're not listening to the fishermen."
In March, Moulton reintroduced the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered Right Whales Act. It establishes a grant program to fund collaborative research projects among states, non-governmental organizations and fishing and shipping stakeholders.
That bill passed out of the Natural Resources Committee in May.
Moulton also helped secure $1.5 million in additional funding for right whale research and preservation as part of the Commerce, Science and Justice appropriations package.
When first elected, Moulton said he was asked which side he was going to choose in the great fishing debate — conservationists or fishermen. He rejected the notion, he said, that those were his only options.
"I'm not choosing a side," he said. "I just want everybody focused on the science."
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.