It is difficult to think of the departure of the Large Pelagics Research Center as anything less than a great loss for Gloucester.
Officials from the facility, associated with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst since 2010, announced earlier this week that the center will move from Hodgkins Cove to Boston, and change its affiliation within the university system.
The research center will join UMass Boston’s School for the Environment, allowing founder and director Molly Lutcavage to work with researchers from that school as well as those from the New England Aquarium.
“It’s kind of like starting over again,” Lutcavage told reporter Sean Horgan. “But it’s a really exciting time and we’re really looking forward to working with an incredible cross-section of ocean and research scientists within the School for the Environment. This is really exciting for us to be affiliated with them.”
UMass Boston’s gain is Gloucester’s loss. During its time at Hodgkins Cove, the center’s research on bluefin tuna and other highly migratory pelagic species drew international attention. That work delved deeply into the migration and breeding habits of bluefin and big-eye tuna, swordfish, leatherback turtles and sharks.
The commitment to funding the center, however, never matched the depth of its research. Work was paid for through a hodgepodge of grants and other funding sources. The uncertainty led to the loss of several doctoral and post-doctoral scientists.
Now, UMass Amherst seems uncertain about what it wants to do with the property.
“With Professor Lutcavage’s departure, we will take this opportunity to assess how to best use the facility, which may include work in marine ecosystems, recreational fisheries practices, climate change and climate preparedness, or other important issues that Gloucester and other coastal cities across the commonwealth and the country face,” university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said. “The university will also welcome other partners, including the state Division of Marine Fisheries, to use the facility.”
Unfortunately, that sounds more like a laundry list than a plan. If Gloucester is to remain relevant as a leader not only in the fishing industry but in fisheries and related research, it needs strong relationships with and investments from institutions like UMass Amherst. Here’s hoping a similarly significant and relevant scientific operation is in the offing.