Fighting for Bostons Fishing History

(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - It’s been a tough year after a string of tough years for New England fishermen, with federal catch limits for groundfish off Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine slashed by up to 77 percent in hopes of keeping cod and flounder from going extinct.

But in the heart of Boston’s Innovation District, a place where every week it seems you hear about another multimillion-dollar development plan, Boston’s Fish Pier and associated facilities are still landing a million pounds a month of fresh fish and lobster – 12 million pounds a year – and many fishing leaders are now wondering how much the underutilized pier complex could help save and grow the business locally.

That was the focus of a Massachusetts Port Authority event Wednesday where officials began officially celebrating the Fish Pier’s upcoming 100th birthday next year and brainstorming ideas about how to make fish-related industries stronger and more visible in this part of Boston.

One angle: With federal catch limits essentially shutting fishermen out of harvesting groundfish like cod and flounder, fishermen are being pushed by regulators and environmentalists to try to develop demand and customer taste for less commercially popular species that are still abundant off New England, like dogfish, redfish, pollock, and hake.

"There's a lot of good species out there that are underutilized, and I’ve always paid attention to groups that are really trying to promote those things. I'm on board with that 100 percent," said Tory Bramante, owner of Atlantic Coast Seafood, who’s also felt the pain of fishing cutbacks because he owns two trawlers of his own – the America and the American Pride – and has 18 more Boston-based fishing crews who sell their catch to him.

"There's a lot of good things that people have come up with, good recipes, and a lot of the chefs are being very creative these days, and there are a lot of the species out there that we can grow on," Bramante said.

If that happens, one place processors can definitely grow: Massport’s nearly half-empty Boston Fish Pier.

"We would like to see all of this, these buildings, be filled with processors and seafood companies," said Massport port director Deborah Hadden.

Massport CEO Tom Glynn noted that Boston is rich in middlemen between fisherman and chef. "We are a world leader in the preparation of fish," Glynn said. "If you have a piece of salmon served to you at a high-end restaurant in Chicago, it was probably processed down the street and flown to Chicago on a plane that came out of Logan" International Airport, Glynn said.

"We want to remind visitors to this part of South Boston, tourists and citizens in general, the importance of fishing to our economy and to the success of this area," Glynn said.

The timing of the event Wednesday was no coincidence: Saturday is scheduled the second Boston Seafood Festival at the Harborlights outdoor music hall, now called Bank of America Pavilion, which is expected to draw up to 6,000 attendees and will feature sampling of more than 20 obscure fish species many diners have never encountered, festival organizers said.

Chris Basile, co-founder and president of the Boston Fisheries Foundation, a year-old group that’s helping organize the Seafood Festival and broader efforts to sustain and strengthen Boston’s four-century-old roots as a fishing town, said, "Boston is a very important part of the seafood industry, and to be marketed as ‘from Boston’ or ‘from the Boston boats’ -- or the Gloucester boats – it all comes into Boston. Everything comes into Boston. So coming from Boston is a very good trademark."

"The fish pier is a big pier," Bramante said. "It's capable of handling plenty of boats. I think there's plenty of room to grow on the pier, boatwise and processing. I think the pier's great."

With videographer Scott Wholley

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