The Massachusetts maritime economy grew faster than the state’s economy as a whole from 2005 to 2015 despite declines in commercial fishing and seafood processing.

Those findings, contained in an analysis of the state’s maritime economy by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Public Policy Center, paint a portrait of a maritime economy in transition while providing a potential template for future maritime growth in Gloucester.

The analysis said the state maritime economy includes 5,555 establishments that pay $3.4 billion in total wages to 90,482 workers. It produced $6.4 billion in gross state product and represents 2.6 percent of the state’s direct employment.

“Massachusetts has the largest maritime economy in terms of employment and GSP among New England coastal states,” according to the analysis funded by the state Seaport Council and released Tuesday.

According to the findings, the maritime economy saw robust growth in employment (up 18.2 percent) and gross state product (up 48 percent) from 2005 to 2015 — each significantly higher than totals for other segments of the state’s overall economy.

But the news isn’t nearly as positive within the living resources sector of the maritime economy, which includes fish hatcheries, fishing, seafood markets and seafood processing.

The analysis showed the living resources sector suffered dramatic declines in the number of establishments (561, down 10.9 percent) and employment (5,717, down 13.4 percent) in the decade covered by the analysis.

“Employment in the sector has been declining since 2009, particularly in the fishing industry,” the analysis stated. “Living resources is a ‘mature’ sector, with high employment concentrations, indicating regional specialization, but with a shrinking labor force.”

The workforce decline, according to the analysis is driven by “federal regulations that make it increasingly difficult for smaller fishing operations to operate profitably” resulting in consolidations around larger fishing operations with economies of scale.

The report also said Massachusetts exported $445 million worth of fish and other marine animals in 2015, and imported $2 billion of those same products.

“There’s an untapped market for eating our own fish,” Michael Goodman told the council. The executive director of UMass Dartmouth’s Public Policy Center said, “We import a lot of fish. It’s hard to know where your fish comes from.”

State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said the Baker administration’s council is more attuned to promoting economic development than prior efforts to assist the state’s coastal communities.

“The focus has been sharpened from one that was broadly infrastructural to one that is much more focused on economic development, and I think they’re looking more closely than they have in the past at the connection between an investment of public dollars and a return in terms of employment and economic activity,” Tarr told the State House News Service.

The report said the state established 10 designated port areas intended to protect water-dependent industrial uses. Port cities seeking to bring research and education to their waterfronts would need “flexibility” from current strictures to accomplish that, according to the report. Tarr also wants flexibility for people with businesses operating within the designated port areas.

“There are limited activities that those property owners can conduct, and that limits their access to capital,” Tarr said. “So on the one hand we’re saying these are critical pieces of infrastructure for the state and because of that we’re regulating them, and on the other hand we’ve been unwilling to put major infusions of capital in to keep them alive so I think we need to be more consistent in the message that comes from state government.”

The segments of the maritime economy that performed best over the prescribed decade include tourism and recreation — the largest employer, though a smaller contributor to wages and GSP — and marine transportation and technology — which accounts for only 13 percent of employment but 35 percent of the maritime economy’s total wages.   

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.

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

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