Even in times of turmoil, the state’s historic fishing ports serve as economic engines for the communities surrounding them. Their future, however, is threatened by more than overfishing and overregulation. According to a new report from the state, a decades-long inattention to the upkeep of the state’s busiest ports has led to disappearing piers, shallow harbors and crumbling harborside infrastructure.

Gloucester, the report from the state Division of Marine Fisheries said, needs more piers and docks, better parking and more room for gear and bait storage. And those are just the small ticket items. The harbor should be dredged, and there’s a need for a public hoist. Rockport needs wharf repairs, better protection for its harbors and docks with water and electricity. Newburyport needs dredging and more mooring space. Salem’s Winter Island Pier and Congress Street landing need to be refurbished.

The work will not come cheap. But there is an opportunity for even relatively small port communities in the infrastructure improvement plan under debate on Capitol Hill. President Joseph Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion spending plan to upgrade everything from roads and bridges to airports and railways. Republicans have countered with $928 billion plan of their own.

Biden’s plan mentions the need to upgrade facilities at the nation’s largest shipping ports, but says little to nothing about the thousands of smaller hubs that dot the American coastline. That has to change. As the DMF report notes, “commercial fishing plays an important role in the economies and cultures of smaller ports and the region as a whole. In fact, commercial fishing provides part-time and full-time employment for thousands of residents.” Gloucester fishermen, for example landed 63.1 million pounds of seafood worth $53.2 million in 2018. That same year, lobstermen in Rockport earned $6.6 million from 1.4 million pounds of lobster.

Biden and the GOP both say they want to protect good-paying American jobs. One avenue is to make sure the nation’s oldest industry has the support it needs to adapt and change with the times.

 

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