Gloucester, Mass. seeks a fishing future

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May 24, 2013, 8:09 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Gloucester, Mass.) - Few cities in New England are feeling the pain of this month’s 77 percent government cut in allowed cod-fishing as this hard-working port on Cape Ann, whose fishermen bring in, on average, $1 million a week worth of fish.

As fishermen cope with the latest in several allowed catch reductions since 1978, Gloucester civic and business leaders are working on what Mayor Carolyn Kirk calls their “bridge plan” – a bridge to a future where, activists know, there is still plenty of money to be made from the sea, but it’s likely to have much less to do with trawlers heading out to Georges Bank and beyond.

"People won't invest in the fishery right now, because they don't know what the regulations are going to be next year," said Kirk’s harbor planning director, Sarah Garcia.

With federal disaster relief money coming, slowly, to Gloucester, the city’s also working to get funds for planning and spawning new products, markets, and industries.

"It just doesn't take a whole lot of money from the federal government to make sure that that investment's made to preserve the fishery," Garcia said.

One example Gloucester officials love of a new fishing-related revenue stream: Neptune’s Harvest, a waterfront business that turns fish guts and crab shells into rich, organic, low-nitrogen fertilizer. Starting out in the 1980s as a wholesale producer, Neptune’s Harvest created consumer brands starting in 1994 and have seen steadily growing interest in their products, which, besides providing a range of nutrients, also have natural deer-repelling effects for plants.

"It’s like they keep tightening the noose around these fishermen's necks," Neptune’s Harvest sales manager Ann Molloy said of the May 1 round of groundfishing cutbacks.

Neptune’s Harvest is one example of creating a new product line from the fishing industry.

"We were filleting the fish for years, and that's 30 to 40 forty percent, and my father said maybe if we could use 100 percent of the fish, we could save a lot of jobs," said Molloy.

Another angle to the bridge plan is work to create more markets for species of fish that are abundant in the Atlantic waters off Gloucester, like skate, spiny dogfish and pollock, which many advocates say can be delicious, but haven’t been well promoted or marketed.

"There are all sorts of different kinds of fish species that have their own qualities and tastes that are wonderful, and it depends how you cook it," Garcia said.

The Kirk plan also envisions everything from redeploying fishing boats as research vessels to development of more “green” energy and chemical products from ocean biomass to more production and promotion of seaweed-based food items that are already very popular in parts of Asia.

All are needed examples, Molloy said, of "just creative thinking of how to take what we have and utilize the resource to its full potential, and there is a lot of potential left in the ocean that we can draw on and create new products from. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what kinds of products you can find in the ocean."

Tags: massachusetts, Peter Howe, Gloucester , fishing, Cape Ann, Sarah Garcia, Ann Molloy
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