Monday, November 23, 2009

Francesco "Capt. Paul" Brancaleone Remembered

The recent passing of Paul Brancaleone has saddened our fishing community, his family, and his many friends. Paul’s accomplishments and contributions to his adopted Gloucester deserve recognition beyond a condensed remembrance that a newspaper obituary provides.

I met Capt. Paul in the early ’70s, when as a marine insurance broker I insured his vessel, the inshore dragger Santa Lucia. Over the years, our routine business association developed into a closer relationship, one of admiration, respect, and friendship.

Paul came to this country as a young man in his early thirties. Like so many in the 1950s era, waves of immigrants arriving from economically depressed Terrasini, Sicily, all sought a better lifestyle. Historically this has been Gloucester’s story repeated for centuries. Fishing in the old country was Paul’s expertise. Like so many others before and since, he readily adjusted to his new surroundings and would immediately find acceptance and work on our thriving waterfront of that decade. Brancaleone would become a successful vessel owner/operator, businessman, employer, home owner, and a respected family breadwinner in his newly adopted country.

I often have asked myself: how would I fare, adjusting to a foreign country, reacting to a totally new lifestyle, while learning an unfamiliar language and providing for my family?

Gloucester’s new citizen was a personable, polite, gregarious individual, always a gentleman, and had no trouble fitting into the local waterfront scene. In his trade, he was a recognized expert fisherman, a reliable hard worker, and a contributor....Paul Brancaleone gave back to our local fishing industry from the day he arrived!

Gloucester’s fishing industry in the late 1950s and ‘60s was prosperous and promising to newcomer Paul. He immediately took his place alongside his contemporaries at Fisherman’s Wharf. Accepting Paul into their fraternity of highliners were Capt. "Gus" Sanfilippo of the F/V St. Rosalie; Capt. Emilio Spinola and his brothers, Mike and Tom; their uncle, Sam “Glo” Scola; and the family patriarch, Capt. Domenic Spinola of the F/V St. Mary, newly launched only a few years before. There was also Capt."Tom" Aiello of the F/V St. Providenza, Capt. “Joe” Giacalone and his partner Sebastian “Bikee” Scola in their
F/V St. Peter. Also, the Testaverde family in their F/V Linda B.; the nearby
F/V St. Peter III, captained by "Tom" Favazza; and Capt. Benny Chianciola in the F/V Serafina II. All were successful whiting and inshore groundfish producers of the day. These few vessels were charter members of the original Gloucester Whiting Association, organized at Fisherman’s Wharf in the early 1950s and managed by my friend Ray Kershaw. Its membership would exceed 50 inshore vessels in the
‘50s and ‘60s.

Within a few years of his arrival in Gloucester, Paul Brancaleone, the risk taker, would roll the dice and join this fleet with his own dayboat, F/V Santa Lucia. Fishing with his compardi vessel owners, Brancaleone and his Santa Lucia crew became a reliable producer of whiting and groundfish, landed daily at Fisherman’s Wharf in the decades of the '60s and‘70s even into the‘80s. Paul didn’t own the largest boat in the fleet nor did he receive headlines for his production. He merely went about his business everyday....a true highliner!

For decades, this dayboat fleet regularly provided volume quality fresh groundfish to the gourmet restaurant trade from Gloucester to New York and Philadelphia! Capt. Paul and his Santa Lucia were part of that production. This inshore fleet, frequently overshadowed, often going unrecognized for their achievements, were the prosperity builders of Gloucester in those years, advancing Gloucester’s reputation for providing the best fresh groundfish in the industry.

A few weeks ago, while in traffic passing St. Peter’s Club, I observed my friend Paul sitting on a bench socializing with his fellow retired compardis in the bright morning sun. I recognized his familiar beaming smile. I waved and he waved back. I thought then how wonderful it was that Capt. Paul lived to enjoy his hard earned retirement. I will miss seeing my friend, Paul, now gone from the longer with us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


USMC War Memorial Sunset Parade, Washington, D.C.

As we approach America’s annual July 4th celebration of our countries independence, I am publishing my Friday blog early this week. Thanks to my friends Warren Silva and Tom Hare for their submissions. To me, it is why we celebrate the meaning of July 4th. As only Kate Smith could sing, “GOD BLESS AMERICA!”

remember the shoe bomber?

Ruling by Judge William Young, US District Court.

Prior to sentencing, the Judge asked the defendant if he had anything to
say. His response: After admitting his guilt to the court for the record,
Reid also admitted his 'allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam, and to
the religion of Allah,' defiantly stating, “I think I will not apologize
for my actions,” and told the court “I am at war with your country.”

Judge Young then delivered the statement quoted below:

Judge Young: “Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court
imposes upon you.

On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the
custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7,
the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence
on each count to run consecutively. (That's 80 years.)

On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years again, to be
served consecutively to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon
you for each of the eight counts a=2 0fine of $250,000 that's an aggregate
fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation
with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of
$298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines.

The Court imposes upon you an $800 special assessment. The Court imposes
upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it.
But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further.

This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair
and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence.

Now, let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of you or any of your
terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been
through the fire before. There is too much war talk here and I say that
to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, we deal with
individuals as individuals and care for individuals as individuals. As
human beings, we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a
soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to
call you a soldier, gives you far too much stature. Whether the officers
of government do it or your attorney does it, or if you think you are a
soldier, you are not----- you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate
with terrorists. We do not meet with terrorists. We do not sign
documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But
you are not that big. You're no warrior. I've known warriors. You are a
terrorist. A species of criminal that is guilty of multiple attempted
murders. In a very real sense, State Trooper Santiago had it right when
you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered
where the press and the TV crews were, and he said: 'You're no big deal.'

You are no big deal.

What your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys
have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to
grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led
you here to this courtroom today?

I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to
search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you
to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing? And, I have
an answer for you. It may not satisfy you, but as I search this entire
record, it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You
hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live
as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we
individually choose. Here, in this society, the very wind carries
freedom. It carries it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because
we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful
courtroom, so that everyone can see, truly see, that justice is
administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's
sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf, have
filed appeals, will go on in their representation of you before other

We Americans are all about freedom. Because we all know that the way we
treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake
though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to
preserve our freedoms. Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The
world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. The day after
tomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this, however, will long endure.

Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American
people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not
war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the
United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and
lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged and juries of
citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to
mo ld and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America.
That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten.
That flag stands for freedom. And it always will.

Mr. Custody Officer. Stand him down.”

Captured Photo Collection � The 65th Anniversary of D-Day on the Normandy Beaches Photos
American soldiers march down English street to landing craft embarkation, June 6, 1944

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gloucester City Government - It's Politicians, Past and Present

Gloucester City Hall

In my book, An Island No More, I talk about Gloucester being like no other place. Our government and our politicians have in the past and in some ways carry on this unique public image. I’ve been an interested observer of local politics for over 50 years and we’ve had our share of different, sometimes whacky, political candidates.

John P. Canavan, a city council hopeful in the late ‘40s campaigned on a platform of hot topping the harbor as his solution to the scarcity of downtown parking. Then there was the declared dark horse in 1967’s runoff, who actually rode a horse into Kelleher’s Bar during the election eve buffet. We had a junkman by trade, who campaigned unsuccessfully several times, increasing his vote count as he gained oratory experience. He also wrote eloquently in the Times. It was rumored at the time that he enlisted the services of a ghost writer. It turned out the mystery pen belonged to a local coal and lumber czar. Who could forget John J. Burke, Esq., one of our most colorful mayors in the early ‘50s, a pleasant change from the honorable “straight-laced” Weston U. Friend? Of course, all of the above were part of a different era; looking back, post WW II politics were innocent years.

Things didn’t seem as serious in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Life in Gloucester was positively exciting, our fishing fleet was growing by leaps and bounds, and our families were prosperous. Life was great for our blue collar community that turned into a tourist artist mecca in those carefree summers so long ago.

In many ways, as Gloucester moved forward in the 1950s, our fishing industry experienced a gradual decline over the next several decades, bringing us to the present day. We now live in different times, having experienced basic economic changes. We continue to adjust and rise to the challenges that these lifestyle changes impose upon us.

For starters, the modern day complexities of municipal governing require a reexamining of our present government and how we go about delivering our municipal services. As a life long observer, I feel the time is now, perhaps long overdue, to reexamine the City Manager form of government in earnest. We have city manager experience and we made some poor choices in the past; let’s revisit the city manager form of government.

I personally feel that our mayoral form of government went out with high button shoes! If we are to continue our present form of government, I feel the mayor’s term should be increased to four years and no more than two consecutive terms. As it presently stands, a new mayor barely arrives in city hall when she finds herself having to mount a reelection bid only months into her first two-year administration. These short two year terms and reelection campaigns, coupled with the lack of term limit restrictions on incumbents, are expensive to conduct and play into the hands of municipal unions. All politicians seeking reelection must bow to these voting groups. This is a no-win situation for the general taxpayer, rightfully expecting improvement and efficiency in the cost of government administration. This is exactly the position Gloucester finds itself in today.

Politicians in the past have given our city away in better economic times and now find that these cushy employee union negotiated contractual benefits are realistically no longer affordable. These freely given cumulative benefits are seen as bargaining chips agreed to by incumbents as a means of perpetuating their own political longevity. The chickens have come home to roost....the gravy train has stopped! Terms limits address this issue!

All city councilors should run “at large”. The “Ward Councilor” title should be relegated to the trash heap! Ward candidates are not required to compete city wide. They only have to convince a narrow segment of the city’s entire voter population. In this limited voter constituency, the incumbent, often unchallenged, walks in avoiding the scrutiny of our entire voting community. While the premise for this ward representation is to deliver neighborhood services by their ward designated councilor, that councilor, who only catered to a ward constituency, then gets to vote on matters affecting the entire city! To me, this doesn’t ad up. All councilors should be governed by term limit restrictions and serve only two consecutive terms, i.e., eight years.... AT LARGE.

Our present form of city government needs to be revamped. Our executive branch, mayor and assistants, et al appears to be bogged down in the daily minutia, the nuts and bolts of administrating our budget. These duties should be delegated to a professional manager, leaving the mayor and inner staff to focus totally on issues of attracting new business development, increasing our tax base and generally moving our beautiful city forward.

In keeping with the above, I am reminded of a former city council that came to be known as the “Reform Council”, circa 1968. My friend from boyhood, Andrew Nickas, was a member of that council, along with Joe Salah and others. Together, they became known for constantly making things happen for Gloucester. That group successfully acquired the St. Peter’s High School (Fuller School) purchased from the Boston Archdiocese at a bargain price. They successfully opened up the formally landlocked Blackburn Industrial Park, negotiating with the state for an access road off Route 128. The Reform Council was always moving. It seemed that every week there was a new announcement, bringing meaningful economic change to Gloucester. They were not interested in their own longevity, only striving for the community’s overall better quality of life!

Over the past 50 years, Gloucester has experienced lackluster style government with few bright spots; however, the Reform Council, circa 1968 was by far the very best short term city government Gloucester has experienced in my lifetime.

CHANGE – Gloucester’s government must adopt new ways.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Future of Gloucester’s Fishing Industry – Part III – Harbor Planning

When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, ending WW II, the landscape was totally obliterated. I stood on ground zero in Hiroshima twelve years later. The sight has remained etched in my memory for over 50 years. Talk about a new beginning! City planning, while heart wrenching and emotionally draining, was also awe inspiring to view the total transformation of a war torn ancient city into a totally new well-planned metropolis.

Sumo wrestling is Japan’s national sport; a close second is American baseball. Hiroshima city owns a world class baseball stadium, thanks to American troop introduction of the sport after the war. That planning and building of a sport stadium was easy, given Hiroshima’s devastated landscape of 1945.

Gloucester harbor planning – future crystal ball viewing by any planning agency is not so easy. We own a partially developed waterfront with, in most cases, viable waterfront businesses operating, i.e., Gorton’s of Gloucester, Rose’s Machine & Oil Division, Ciulla’s Fish Display Auction, Oceancrest Fish Company, commercial freezers, various restaurants, and the new Cruiseport facility, to name a few. All of these operating businesses and approximately 70 other direct waterfront parcels around the harbor periphery fall within the D.P.A. (Designated Port Authority).

This port authority came into existence for Gloucester about 1978. Mass. Chapter 91, “Coastal Zone Management, D.P.A. Control” governs our harbor waterfront from the Fort to East Gloucester. The intent of this authority and other layers of government were to prevent and protect our waterfront from development by unrelated industry. Restricting use guaranteed future space for any resurgence of the fishing industry. Whoever was in authority in 1978 did not investigate the harbor’s past history, for if they had, they would have clearly seen the economic stranglehold they were imposing on about 50% of the waterfront! That’s about the same properties that remain vacant as of this writing. The Fort’s former Cape Ann Fisheries, I-4-C2 parcel, the Building Center’s coal wharf, and other undeveloped waterfront parcels bordering the harbor have labored economically since well before 1978.

Capt. Joe and Sons East Main Street Wharf, 2009

I continue to remind our planners that the peak years of Gloucester’s anchor industry were the 1940s and ‘50s. In 1978, I was in the marine insurance business, insuring approximately 90% of the existing fleet. In that year, Gloucester’s fleet numbered approximately 120 offshore vessels. This was about half of our fleet in 1950. I remind the reader that in the peak year of 1950, when our fleet produced hundreds of millions of pounds of edible fish annually, that production was accomplished on approximately 50% to 60% of the waterfront property! In spite of the above, in 1978, with a declining fishing fleet, this Designated Port Authority status was adopted, including all waterfront properties in its wake; it was negligent overkill from its inception! The D.P.A. simply ended any hope of future development in our harbor! By adopting D.P.A. status, the total development we were attempting to encourage and shape, really doomed our waterfront to the present day.

Gloucester’s hands are tied, waiting for an industry rebirth that will not happen. If it did, we can accomplish the Herculean tasks of the 1950s on the existing waterfront, independent of the D.P.A.’s currently protected vacant, undeveloped parcels.

Scuttlebutt: Gloucester and the remains of our once great fishing industry core workforce owe a sincere thank you to Mr. Richard Gaines, staff reporter of the Gloucester Daily Times. His continuing in-depth professional candid reporting should be appreciated by many. Gaines delivers the waterfront news daily. Without his reporting and the supporting editorial leadership of our hometown paper, Gloucester’s fishermen and indeed the fishing industry countrywide would loose an important voice. Mr. Gaines, whom I have never met, is Gloucester’s resident professional industry advocate for truth and fairness. Gaines and his mighty pen continue to expose unfairness in interpreting local and federal bureaucracy as it affects the lives of our citizens. I like the cut of his jib! Ron Gilson

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Next Week's Blog: Gloucester City Government - It's Politicians, Past and Present

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Future of Gloucester's Fishing Industry, Part III - Harbor Planning

The post scheduled for this week"The Future of Gloucester's Fishing Industry, Part III - Harbor Planning" will appear next Friday, June 19.

Today I am running a series of photos from my book, "An Island No More", regarding yesterday's waterfront activities and highlights of the past. (Father's Day, June 21, is an excellent time to purchase a copy of this book at the local bookstores, gift shops, Border's, and

Portuguese Blessing of the Fleet Procession to the State Fish Pier, 1946 (DaCruz photo)

United Fisheries, F/V Grand Marshall to be converted to dragging, '41 circa Larry Colby Photo (This vessel became Capt. Frank Rose's F/V Spring Chicken)

Melanson's Boat Yard 1950. F/V Margie L. under construction at head of Gloucester harbor, directly across from the new Rockport National Bank branch on Parker Street. (Larry Colby photo)

Gorton's Cold Storage, corner of Scott Street and East Main Street (presently self-service gas station located across from Rose's oil wharf, formerly United Fisheries Wharf, in 1940s)

Ben Pine's Atlantic Supply Wharf before urban renewal 1940s.

(Presently location of Capt. Carlo's wharf, restaurant and seafood display auction property)
At left of the photo is the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center.

Harbor Cove Italian Seiners, Larry Colby Photo, circa 1949 (In background Gloucester Coal and Lumber Company unloading coal crane, Building Center property)

In Memoriam - Butch Clemeno Welding at the Gloucester Marine Railways, 1973

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Future of Gloucester’s Fishing Industry – Part II -- CHANGE

While many activists base their efforts on a fishing industry “comeback”, the reality is it isn’t going to happen. “Comeback”, meaning hundreds of meaningful shore side processing jobs, hundreds of new career fisherman on hopefully hundreds of boats....anything resembling the 1940s and ‘50s, is simply out of the question. Still there are those holding out hope for a return to the deluge volume of the early ‘50s! Dr. Carmine Gorga has publicly stated his only hope is “will we be ready....”

Since 1950, our once anchor industry has been on a downward spiral. There are many citizens of Gloucester who point to declining fish landings, being the result of governmental regulations, and a lack of resource compared to the industry heydays of the ‘40s and ‘50s. That is all true; however, there are even deeper reasons for Gloucester’s industry demise. I realize that over fishing and over regulation are often thought of as the main cause of our industry failing, however, I believe “change” in our society is the principle culprit.

Some activists subscribe to a renaissance in fish stocks as a result of federal resource conservation rules that currently govern our remaining few boats. These regulations for Gloucester fishermen are similarly enforced throughout the domestic fishing industry. Government regulations have become a way of life in the industry.

Before I discuss change and how it plays such an important role in our harbor planning of 2009, current planning boards and other governmental agencies should review a similar period in our time: the Great Depression. In many ways, our waterfront history of the ‘30s is repeating itself some eighty years later! In the mid 1930s at the height of the depression, Gloucester and its prime (only) industry, fishing, was in the doldrums. Unemployment was off the charts, if records were kept, fishermen were dumping their entire trips overboard outside the breakwater in protest to one and two cent per pound fish prices.

Dory Trawler Adventure
Unloading Trip at Boston Fish Pier 1951

Economically, we were losing to Boston in the ground fishing business.
Our fleet of ground fish dory trawlers was transitioning to the new dragging method. The ground fish industry that was growing and prospering in Boston, was declining in Gloucester. Our local, once leading roaring '20s waterfront with its gala fishermen races notoriety, propelling our image round the world, was over. There was a glimmer of change. A new type redfish was showing up in the Portuguese fleet’s nets of their newer draggers, such as the F/V Elvira Gaspar and Evelina M. Goulart. Dragging was the way of the future. Gloucester fishermen were responding slowly in those depression years, however, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it was the lowly redfish.

The 1930s had their activists, the movers and shakers of our waterfront. Everett Jodrey, a barber by trade in a shop on Duncan Street, was the fishermen’s friend between trips. His granddaughter, Debbie Ryan, told me he was totally sympathetic to the fishermen’s plight. Jodrey had other friends and associates, Capt. Albert Arnold, Ben Pine, John J. Burke and Joe Mellow, a lobster dealer. Piney was a junk man originally, turned boat manager. Albert Arnold captained the gillnetter Phyllis A.. Only Johnnie Burke was college educated and a lawyer.

These were ordinary men who came together in extraordinary times. Everett Jodrey, father of the Jodrey State Fish Pier, dedicated in October 1938, and the above-mentioned activists had a far reaching vision; they addressed the need of a changing waterfront back in the 1930s. These ordinary men all possessed waterfront “street smarts”. They had a vision of the emerging dragger volume fishing. They capitalized on the timely arrival of Birdseye’s newly developed quick freezing method, thereby facilitating the redfish boon of the ‘40s and ‘50s. As highline Capt. Lloyd Campbell would say years later, “The redfish were eatin’ the keel out of the boat, you!”

The domestic fish industry, its products, and the fishermen delivering same, have changed ways dramatically. The consumer has changed and the products one demands at the supermarket are numerous and unheard of only a few years ago! Looking back and ahead the main ingredient missing in the fishing industry of the future is the availability of the men themselves. The world of harvesting the oceans has moved forward technologically almost beyond comprehension. The industry has outsmarted itself and is capable of catching and processing fish in previously unheard of volume.

While our anchor industry has changed, not only in Gloucester but fishing ports the world over, so to have the men that once made up our harvesting workforce. Fishermen of fifty years ago are no more and they’re not being replaced. In my youth, the often heard cry, “there’s no future in fishing, don’t go”, has been heeded – those who witnessed their fathers and others toil on the sea away from home and families for days, weeks at a time, no longer are willing to sacrifice and pay that price. There will always be fishermen and fish to catch, but it will not return to yesterday; the men and industry has moved on. We live in a different world. The soccer moms of today will not tolerate the absence of their breadwinners.

So where does that leave Gloucester? We have to rise to the occasion and reinvent ourselves. Fishing is no longer our way of life. It is our heritage and we in Gloucester should recognize this shift and proceed on a new course. We must change, adapt and accept new concepts to revitalize our economic future.

The whaling industry started in Nantucket. In less than 100 years it moved to New Bedford because the harbor of Nantucket could not accommodate the larger whaling vessels needed to hunt the sperm whale the world over. Both ports capitalize on their whaling heritage, and they do it to the letter. The whaling industry’s heyday lasted approximately 100 years. Gloucester’s fishing industry has been around almost 400 years, claiming over 5,000 lives. We’re America’s oldest seaport! That’s our heritage; people want to learn about our history. We need to do a better job in promoting our heritage and make that story our primary public relations mission to the world.

That’s the background. Today’s government leaders, activists, and harbor economic development planners need to start with this history. Next week’s blog will explore our harbor planning, the planners and course of action for our local governmental agencies relative to our key economic asset.....our waterfront of the future.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Future of Gloucester's Fishing Industry - Part I

There will always be fishing in Gloucester. There will always be men to go fishing. That is our heritage and has been for close to 400 years. It is not, however, Gloucester’s future.

If you were an adult in the late 1940s or 1950s, you witnessed the big show! Sixty years ago, Gloucester’s fishing industry was at its peak. We were the recognized world leader in production of volume fish products. Since the mid-1950s, our dominance in the industry has steadily declined.

Gorton Pew's F/V Mother Ann Being Towed
After Launching in Essex, 1947

To understand this rise and fall of our once anchor industry, we must review a few basics. At the end of the great depression in the early ‘40s, our fleet of offshore vessels had completed a transition from dory fishing to a motorized dragging method of fishing. Gloucester’s fleet was on the threshold of adopting a vastly different, more efficient, method of catching fish. A few newer draggers were being built just before WW II. A new modern fish pier was created on Five Pound Island, complete with processing stalls and freezer coming on line in 1938. Clarence Birdseye introduced quick freezing and the Portuguese fishermen were occasionally catching a new, strange redfish in their trawls and nets. All these factors came together in the early 1940s. Pearl Harbor and WW II brought immense increased demand for our newly discovered redfish. This required the modern day quick-freezing method of processing that completed the more salt.

What we didn’t know at the time, was the epic era we were about to enter and the historic impact our fishing products would have on this country and the European war torn world economies.

For the decade between 1945 and 1955, Gloucester and our citizens enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. This is the era I grew up in and it really was a big show. Our city was totally involved. If the family’s breadwinner wasn’t a fisherman or a wharf worker, it was a rarity. It seemed our entire population was intimately involved in supporting our anchor industry. It was an exciting era; it was Gloucester’s way of life. In those days, I thought Gloucester’s business, fishing, would go on forever!

Graduating from Gloucester High School in 1951, I immediately took a job on this busy waterfront. It was what many young men and women did in those days.

Joe Codinha's Ultra-Modern Redfish Processing Plant, off East Main Street, 1945

The F/V Benjamin C. highline crew, pictured on the vessel's whaleback, steaming home from the fishing banks in 1947.
Center: Highline Capt. Joe Ciarametaro, surrounded by his crew

Maiden Trip F/V Felicia, Leaving Gloucester under command of Capt. Salvatore Nicastro

Now some 50 plus years later, our 200 big boat offshore fleet of the 1950s is reduced to a couple dozen inshore boats, several hailing from Maine ports because they are legally prohibited from landing dragger lobsters in Maine. These lobsters are a vital by-catch, extra cash to the crew, the main incentive for the Maine draggers to land their fish and their lobsters in Gloucester. Therefore, the reality is, the Gloucester inshore fleet includes these additional visiting Maine boats.

Today, our main processing fresh fish firms are the display auction, Ocean Crest Seafood and maybe one or two other fresh fish handlers. The Gloucester Seafood Display Auction handled 20,600 pounds of fish yesterday, a sharp contrast to a routine one million pound day in 1950. In the year 1946, the Master Mariner's yearbook listed 19 fish handling firms on Gloucester's waterfront, and we were only just beginning to ramp up to our phenomenal postwar fish production.

What is Gloucester’s fishing future? If you buy into the Harvard PHD trained, self-declared industry experts, our fishing industry is on the verge of a major comeback. They say our only concern should be “will we be ready”, the inference being, will Gloucester be prepared to handle the anticipated deluge of fish to be delivered in the near future!

Preposterous!!! The Carmine Gorgas, David Rubens and Peter Bearses of our community, along with other well-meaning activists, are, in my mind, wrong on their prognosis of the so-called comeback of our once world leadership in the fishing industry. I intend to prove my case in succeeding blogs.

Next Week , Part II: CHANGE

Friday, May 22, 2009

How Gloucester's Legacy Can Aid Our Future

The City of Gloucester has a story to tell and we’ve been writing it since 1623. It’s a beautiful human story of a hard working, seafaring community surrounded by water. Our island is no more. Gloucester’s story is THE human experience. It is our heritage, a story like no other. It is our history that could insure our future economic well being. It unfolds in front of Leonard Crask’s famous statue “The Man at the Wheel.”

Many years ago, we attended a surround sound movie experience at Disneyworld in Florida. As we stood watching what was advertised as “best” world attractions around the globe, the very first opening slide was our “Man at the Wheel” statue on the boulevard! This same world famous statue has been selected to be honored on newly minted quarters in 2010. Imagine the exposure Gloucester will gain by this single “no cost to us” honor bestowed by the federal U.S. Mint. This simple gesture could raise the interest of the world traveling community and bring untold numbers to our shores.

Gloucester has all the ingredients to attract thousands of visitors to our unique “fishing town”. People the world over want to visit and witness a fishing type, whale watching, seafaring experience. This is our legacy to the world, and it should be our community mission to tell it. It is this 400-year old heritage that will bail out Gloucester financially!

Partial Portuguese Fleet, 1947

In my youth Gloucester was “the” leading commercial fishing port of the world. Like chocolate is to Hershey, Pennsylvania, fish was to Gloucester, Massachusetts. This place was totally involved in catching, processing and marketing fish. We were the best at what we did, supplying a high protein content food to our domestic market as well as the armed forces throughout WW II. Under the Marshall Plan, after the war, our fishing industry fed the recovering European war torn continent with our ocean harvest! This story is an often forgotten chapter in Gloucester’s history. It should be retold to our visitors.

On all of our touring vacations, most recently to Holland, every experience was geared to that area’s heritage. In every case, these host destinations offered first-rate hospitality to their visitors. Tourism is an industry; do not underestimate Gloucester’s potential as a visitor destination. People are living longer, and it is these older, retired vacationers that desire, crave, and even thirst for a traveling and learning experience. They are willing to pay big bucks for it. In this informational age of the internet and population mobility, we in Gloucester must capitalize on the vast potential of this sightseeing tourism industry. It is our “ace in the hole”.

In the ‘40s, Gloucester’s summer population swelled by the thousands – artists, historians, vacationers – all sought out our natural beauty. These people appreciated and realized what Cape Ann offered. They stayed in our big hotels – the Moorland, Thorwald, Hawthorne Inn and several others. They lived with us for weeks, often the entire summer season! That has changed over the decades. The modern day vacationer is sophisticated, mobile, internet informed, and demands more. They seek exceptional entertainment because they have experienced it elsewhere.

We here on Cape Ann are truly different and it behooves us as a community to promote ourselves. We must not hide our identity, but advertise our heritage. We are the “other cape” with a story to tell. To do that, we must put on a united front. Gorton’s, our principal fish company, could take a leading role. We must offer quality attractions, and enhanced, authentic waterfront exhibits. We could consider renaming some of our streets and waterfront ways after famous fish species, vessels, industry trade marks and the like.

To reiterate, we must as a community open up and aggressively go after this seasonal visitor income potential. We must offer class type attractions to the tourists if we want them to stay and contribute to our economy. It could be the answer for our economic resurgence. We must change and invite people in; we do not have the luxury of continuing a lethargic mode in terms of waiting for a fishing industry to regenerate itself. We must get off the dime and reinvent ourselves!

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Response to Michael David Rubin's "My View" Column

Today’s blog “How Gloucester’s Legacy Can Aid Our Future”, has been postponed until next week in favor of a developing story that has taken precedent.....stay tuned.....Ron Gilson

On Monday, May 11, my Gloucester Daily Times was read early a.m. as usual. I was drawn immediately to the “My View” piece by Michael David Rubin. In my opinion, Mr. Rubin was way off base with his views of a waterfront on the verge of a comeback!

Normally, the writing of my weekly blogspot begins on Monday, but Rubin’s viewpoint needed to be addressed immediately. He points out that on May 19 the Gloucester City Council will be considering the latest version of the Harbor Plan. As I worked on my response to the “My View” column and because of the subject’s importance and timeliness, I felt it required an urgent response and thus became my weekly blog.

Out of courtesy to the Times I held off publishing this blog until my letter to the editor appeared in the paper. So......I reprint my reply to Mr. Rubin today, Saturday, May 16, 6 p.m., as it was printed in the Times this morning. The fishing history should be considered by the city council when deliberating on our current version of the harbor plan.

My reply in the Times to Mr. Rubin is as follows:

This is an open message to Michael David Rubin and his "My View" (the Times, May 11). I pass this along from a concerned citizen, for what I have to say is true and is appalling.

Mr. Rubin, whatever disagreement you have with Mayor Kirk and her Community Development Director is between the parties; I will not go there. I also will not comment on Mayor Kirk’s Harbor Initiative. I’ve done enough commenting on well meaning civic minded harbor planning committees, dating back to the mid 1960s when I served on Mayor Donald Lowe’s Harbor Planning Committee.

About seven of us met for 2 years on a bi-weekly basis, and spent $10,000 of the city’s money on a professional feasibility study by consultants Metcalf & Eddy. The end result.....nothing. Out of curiosity, I recently attempted to obtain a copy of “our” study to no avail; it has vanished. I do know that by the time it was published, two years had passed, administrations had changed, interest had waned, and apparently our Harbor Study Report went unrecognized, possibly placed into the round file.

In your “My View” piece, I take issue with your opinion that our harbor and its once primary revenue source, commercial fishing, may still return, not only stronger, but as a vital resource. The persistent theme of turning Gloucester into a tourist oriented economy repeats the old threat – destructive residential development of our waterfront. These same scare tactics were around 40 years ago when our Harbor Study Committee met.

Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, the only family member surviving the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam in WW II, on the dedication of the Anne Frank House in 1967, said this, “to build a future you have to know the past.”

In 1949, when Gloucester’s 200 boats, 2,000 fishermen, and 2,500 wharf workers were landing and processing millions of pounds of edible fish daily, routinely breaking annual records of 300- 500 million pounds of redfish and whiting, you, Mr. Rubin, were six years old!

While everyone hopes for a fish comeback, I ask you, define “come back”. Gloucester’s peak fish production was in 1949, ’50, ’51. It has gone downhill steadily since. At the height of our highest fish production, when every pound of fish had to be filleted, packed and frozen, that entire task was accomplished on no more than 60% of the then available wharfage. At least 40% of our waterfront wharfage real estate was unused!

Mr. Rubin, the above is all history, but it’s where Gloucester was in the late ‘40s, when fishing was Gloucester’s primary revenue source. To infer that our waterfront will ever approach even 25% of that production is preposterous. To continue to hold out hope for any fishing fleet revival, warranting the reserving of additional wharfage and/or waterfront frontage, is ridiculous, plain and simple. It’s more, it’s downright fraudulent! I can give you many reasons for the current dire state of Gloucester’s commercial fishing industry.

Along the periphery of our harbor from the Fort to East Gloucester, there are 79 strictly waterfront properties within the D.P.A. (Designated Port Area). Official city records indicate these properties pay a total of $741,000 in real estate taxes. Our entire real estate tax revenues are 56.7 million dollars. Gloucester’s budget is 81 million, as recently submitted. Our waterfront is paying approximately 1-1/2% of our actual total tax revenue! In other words, approximately 98% of Gloucester’s real estate taxpayers are subsidizing your alleged “primary revenue source”, Gloucester harbor waterfront businesses! And you, my concerned citizen, continue to advocate for industrial-only expansion while prime water frontage lies fallow, in some cases over 40 years!

Mr. Rubin, the people of Gloucester deserve an income-producing Gloucester waterfront. Our children and grandchildren deserve better. Our Gloucester waterfront must step up to the plate and pay its fair share. Our city councilors must address the larger need of our entire real estate taxpayer population and our city government must accept the REALITY that our once dominate fishing industry, as we knew it, has changed forever.

Ron Gilson, Gloucester

Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Travelers Are Picking our Pockets

Man At the Wheel

Most everyone residing in Gloucester will agree that we live in a beautiful place. I’ve traveled my share in my lifetime, and visited some wonderful vacation spots, but there’s no place like Gloucester. Waikiki Beach is enchanting and Alaska is certainly picturesque, but Good Harbor Beach at dawn or the Back Shore in the throws of a northeaster beats all! Those scenes and so many more speak to the very heart of what Gloucester is all about. For those of us who live in this beautiful corner of the world we are so fortunate.

Good Harbor Beach at Dawn by Joey C.

In an earlier piece, I wrote about the big summer hotels that once catered to our seasonal tourists. People in the ‘30s and ‘40s visited and stayed weeks, even months, soaking up Gloucester’s attractions. Artists painted busy wharf scenes; the Delphine and Hawthorne Inn cocktail lounges attracted big time talent Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and George Shearing. For the summer visitors, there was wharf activity in the morning, beaches in the afternoon and night club action from Long Beach to East Gloucester to Magnolia’s Oceanside Hotel in the evening.

In those years our fishing fleet was constantly changing, landing more and more fish. Every resident seeking employment could find work on the wharfs or on the vessels. Our southern fleet of 15 – 20 boats, hailing from Virginia ports, boosted our fish landings here. Their families followed as the boats moved north, adding again to our summer population – all these seasonal residents provided increased local revenue. Gloucester, even during the Great Depression seemed to have it together. We were a total community, interrupted by an annual surge of seasonal visitors who easily fit into the landscape of a busy fishing town.

After the Storm by SmugMug

I’m reminded of the outdoor summer art classes conducted by artist Emile Gruppe. He would have as many as 15 – 20 students in front of the Frank E. Davis Fish Wharf (now the Gloucester House Restaurant) and other waterfront locations, painting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, weather permitting. Gruppe’s students came early in June and some stayed for weeks, taking advantage of his teaching.

Today we have none of that summer activity. All our hotels are gone. Seasonal vacationers are mostly day trippers. Visitors arrive by occasional tour buses that stop at the Fisherman’s Statue, or cruise the Back Shore to the Elks function room for a Sunday wedding reception. Our waterfront is barely recognizable. We’re down to a few day boats and the once visible busy fish landing activity is no more. Whale watching is now our new waterfront industrial thing. The artists complain of fewer subjects to paint or paintings being sold.

Our locals have adjusted to the waterfront downturn having moved on long ago, either to our industrial parks, or away completely. Shipbuilding is non-existent for any remaining local fishermen. Waterfront investment dollars associated with fishing are unheard of.

All of the above is the current status of our once summer visitor industry’s main attraction. Today’s tourists are picking and choosing. They are day trippers, arriving by car, toting picnic baskets and bringing their own cold drinks. Our high school athletic grounds provide parking for recreational trailers and Stage Fort Park is filled with families from Boston suburbs, arriving before dawn staking out cookout areas in front of Cressy Beach and parking their cars along the boulevard by the tennis courts, free of charge.

Gloucester is having its pockets picked by day trippers and people passing through. We, in some cases, are giving our Gloucester away! We are not fully capitalizing on our beautiful amenities. We are not making a concerted effort to attract and keep our visitors in Gloucester, once they come over the bridge. As I write this, the future of an official Visitors’ Center is in question.

In 1994, after our restaurant closed, I took a job as the maitre d' at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Inn in Rockport. The inn provided lodging often to week-long visitors, some even longer. Each morning I overheard dining room guests conversations about their activities planned for the day. What was discussed were day trips to Newburyport for shopping; the Peabody malls; Essex antiquing; the Salem Peabody Museum; and possibly a Rockport train to Boston and the Freedom Trail. I cannot recall Gloucester mentioned as a daytime destination!

Main Street Hotel, originally Savoy Hotel

What are we doing wrong? I’ve asked myself that a million times. Gloucester has all the natural beautiful seaside attractions. We have many of the basics; however, our signature attraction, fishing, is no more. The hanging nets, sails drying, busy vessel harbor traffic and volume fish handling are gone. We must attempt to recreate, promote and provide the short term visitor with a reason for wanting to visit our main attraction, our harbor. We should have a waterfront harbor hotel. The downtown Main Street Savoy Hotel of the ‘50s was inadequate in its day; however, it did provide in town year-round lodging. After 50 years, we should build a downtown harbor front hotel and recreational complex. This has to be the keystone of our harbor economic revitalization plan. Incoming visitors will stay extra days in a friendly downtown hotel facility, shop on our Main Street, and visit the Maritime Heritage Center. We must offer more than undeveloped grass vistas, wrongly placed retail businesses, and only stuffy high end visitor attractions.

The centrally located Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, at Harbor Loop, in conjunction with a harbor front hotel, could become the crown jewel in our new waterfront tourist center. This attraction can be and should be much more, possibly partnering with the nearby former Empire Fish Company, now owned by Peter Mullen & Co. Perhaps refurbishing the Empire’s abandoned fish cutting room and whiting processing area as a static display, a walk through picture display enhanced by a 1940s/50s production exhibit.

One of the most interesting pictorial displays of bygone years was exhibited at a St. Peter’s Fiesta, a showing of memorable past fiestas. That exhibit received rave reviews as a highlight of the Fiesta. We should consider recreating this exhibit along with literally thousands of bygone era pictures of the fishing industry, and make a comprehensive exhibit, “open to the public”, possibly in the old Empire Clothing store on Main Street.

In all our travels through the years, our destinations were always entertaining and interesting. To us, as visitors, there were always events to attend, museums to visit, and public displays or exhibits to entertain us. Gloucester must promote its heritage. Upon arriving, a visitor will have a reason for staying, rent a hotel room, shop on our Main Street, and dine in our excellent restaurants. We only have to keep them entertained! We must provide user friendly exhibits in our museums and along our waterfront. Our Maritime Heritage Center should be a prime player.

I’m told tour buses transport annually 80,000 Nova Scotia school students to the remote Lunenburg’s Fishermen’s Museum of the Atlantic. Gloucester has all the ingredients; we only need to find a way to create more appeal by enhancing our harbor and its existing attractions. We have a product to sell. Let's do it!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with selling Gloucester - congratulations to Linn Parisi and her talented board of creative directors for their "Discover Gloucester" brochure. Thursday night this new promotional effort was premiered at The Gloucester House . A dream of Linn's for over a year, this professionally created promotional brochure is an "in your hand" excellent advertising piece prepared for visitors to Gloucester. Their efforts deserve recognition! Again, we have a product to sell. We're doing it!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gloucester Development Projects and Impact Upon Downtown Business

It has been my experience over the years that many Gloucesterites often take the view that the glass is half empty, rather than half full. We seem to doubt the success of any proposal, especially if it involves change. It is almost automatic to anticipate a negative outcome, even before anything is discussed.

For example, a few years ago the state proposed changing the intersection lights and flow of vehicular traffic on Eastern Avenue, Bass Avenue, and Route 128 extension. Before it was completed, critics said it wouldn’t work! One city councilor voiced a negative review as well as several East Gloucester citizens in letters to the editor. Then there was the famous “Fight the Light” proposal in conjunction with the development of Gloucester Crossing shopping mall. How about the harangue over the suicide fence on the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge? All these problems have run their course and been resolved, one way or another; however, not before numerous letters to the editors, bumper stickers, petitions, legal actions, and public hearings were conducted. In the end, the Eastern Avenue/128 intersection has never worked better during my lifetime. I’ve lived with that traffic situation in my old neighborhood since the 50s. The 128 bridge suicide fence has faded into the woodwork over the years and now will be permanently addressed with the long awaited rebuilding of the bridge. Whether it is changing Main Street traffic flow, a hotel proposal at the Fort, or replacing the gas main on Atlantic Road during the summer months, we, as citizens, never seem to envision a successful outcome. We only see the trees and not the forest beyond.

Gloucester Crossing (artist’s rendering)

I recently had a discussion with a downtown merchant who was against the Gloucester Crossing project, citing fear that it would negatively impact her downtown retail business community.

I believe just the opposite. If anything, the coming of a modern, competitive food store, Market Basket, to a Gloucester central location would serve to keep residents on Cape Ann. A Marshall’s department store would further reduce the so-called need for shoppers to leave town. Then the downtown merchants could benefit by these stay-at-home shoppers. They might just rediscover Main Street for the unique, quality merchandise that our Main Street merchants offer. A Danvers DeMoulas store employee told me that 5300 Gloucester customer checking accounts have been approved by the Market Basket. No longer will Gloucester food customers be held up with a gun in their backs, forced to accept exorbitant “island” food pricing. We won’t need to go over the bridge, at least for groceries!

Main Street, Gloucester

Fifty years ago, Gloucester consumers depended upon Main Street for everything. People traded only in Gloucester. It has been said that in those days the retailers made money by accident. A bank president once told me that there were two main commercial banks in Gloucester and their customers often moved from one to the other. The banks’ goal was to maintain their customer share of the existing business. All that changed in the 1950s when Gloucester consumers discovered the North Shore open air shopping mall and later the Liberty Tree mall. Gloucester merchants and their established merchandising methods were introduced to off-island competition.

Over these 60 years, malls, superhighways, private and public transportation, and shopper mobility, have changed Gloucester’s retail merchandising landscape. To do business in the 21st century, retailers must continue to offer quality products, service, and one-of-a-kind innovative merchandising. It is for this very reason I feel Main Street will continue to attract retail customers because of their unique product offerings, excellent quality restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops. I told the apprehensive store keeper that Main Street stores have an opportunity to distance themselves from the ordinary, thereby attracting the discerning, alternative seeking, and sophisticated shoppers to their stores for their special merchandise.

All of the above thinking is not just something I’ve dreamed about, it’s my philosophy and what I have done. In March of 1981, at the height of a recession, unemployment was at 9% and business money was selling at the Gloucester National Bank at 22%. At that time, we purchased a rundown property at 284 Main Street. Seven months later my family opened the Union Hill Coffee House on September 17, 1981. Prior to our grand opening, while walking down Union Hill, I met Gorton’s then president, Ross Clouston. During a brief conversation, while he was observing our Union Hill sign being installed on our façade, he asked if I had a “business plan”. Knowing he was a man of few words, I stopped, looked him in the eye, and said, “Mr. Clouston, we intend to build a better mousetrap”. Looking back on that succinct exchange, I chuckle over my naiveté. This, at a time when Gloucester had more than its share of breakfast places. They were as prevalent as sub shops, beauty salons, and pizza parlors!

Union Hill Coffee House 1981

We continued in business for 13 years, winning awards in Boston Magazine, North Shore Weekly, and receiving numerous other recognitions. We established an excellent reputation, attracting local customers and out-of-towners during all seasons, selling innovative products, providing excellent service, and unusual marketing. This was accomplished with street parking only. Union Hill Coffee House was the busiest restaurant in town; it was judged by others to be the best. We even sponsored our own 14-piece Union Hill Banjo Band that played routinely on patriotic holidays and other special occasions at the restaurant. We packed them in!

Therefore, I know Gloucester Crossing will probably affect some retailers; however, they are not marketing the same merchandise offered on our unique, picturesque developing Main Street. Our retailers on Main Street have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to create a new shopping experience, leaving behind ordinary merchandising found in the chain stores for the masses. After all, Main Street proprietors must be different to survive and prosper.

I believe, if the local merchants of today offer quality products and services not found “everywhere”, packaged with a customer friendly approach, our Main Street retailers will have a successful business plan, that is, “a better mousetrap".

This week marked the passing of Mr. John Chernis. He was a prominent member of our Union Hill Banjo Band back in the 1980s. John was a respected professional musician and the kindest, most soft spoken, loving man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. John Chernis was a friend to all. Ron Gilson
Union Hill Banjo Band 1987 (John Chernis front left)

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Residential Development: Who's Right and Who's Wrong (Part II)

Critics of condo projects, frequently point to ill conceived, cheap construction, poorly designed, gaudy, condo complexes in other neighboring towns as examples of residential development that they don’t want. These critics are exactly right; however, we, in Gloucester, have several award winning examples of excellent condo designed units, offering premium quality residential properties to the consumer market.

For many years, at every public hearing, especially when these meetings involved proposed harbor development, opponents of any nonfishing related project have threatened the audience with the dreaded condo outcome.

This was the scenario at the Paint Factory hearing a few years ago. An ongoing series of housing condo proposals all met with strong audience opposition based on often alleged bogus lost fishery potential. Thanks to Ocean Alliance in 2008, Gloucester’s Motif#1 has been saved! The future of the Paint Factory has been guaranteed for years to come by Ocean Alliance. At long last the best solution has been found, and the proper caretaker is now the official owner.

Ocean Alliance has bought into renewing our harbor’s historic entrance. The organization brings hope and a sense of commitment to preserving our maritime heritage. Other positive signs of renewal investment and faith in our waterfront is the new Cruiseport complex and restaurant; the Gloucester Fish Display Auction; and Latitude 43 Restaurant. These new business additions join the successful established Rose’s Machine Shop, Connolly’s Fish Co., and Gorton’s of Gloucester on the harbor’s east end.

Ocean Crest Fish Co. and the new younger generation of family owners have continued a successful company, also adding “Neptune Harvest”, a fertilizer product, to their business. This is the up side of our business “working waterfront”. Activists are quick to put this positive spin on our industrial oriented waterfront and our alleged rejuvenated developing harbor. This maybe true, and I sincerely hope this economic expansion continues; however, closer examination into this positive business growth indicate not all is FISH-related. Restaurants, Rockport National Bank, Cruiseport, and other businesses are finding a way onto the working harbor, while others like Good Harbor Fillet relocate to the Blackburn Industrial Park. To those of us who have lived close to and worked in the fish industry for a lifetime – realists, not romantics - see the Cruiseport, restaurants, the herring fish pier, and other spin-type waterfront investment as “just that”. Realistically, our fish-related waterfront is dying on the vine! Each day the news gets worse from the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in more restrictive vessel activity.

Overall our waterfront is in need of renewal. When I survey our harbor, all I see are pockets of undeveloped blight. Arriving from seaward, the front door to America’s once premium fishing port, reflects the type of desperation portrayed in Steinbeck’s best seller, “The Grapes of Wrath”, many years ago. This obvious blight impairs Gloucester’s growth, withers hopes, and impedes progress and prosperity. THIS IS THE MESSAGE THAT TODAY’S HARBORFRONT SENDS TO THE VISITOR!

Former Cape Ann Fisheries property, lies fallow; next door, vacant Producer’s Fish Co. property and adjacent wharfs are shut down, reduced to storing lobster traps. This, mind you, is on inactive commercial wharfage bordering on prime harbor frontage. The upland’s periphery road around the backside of the Fort is the same as fifty years ago, only the fish businesses are burned out and the residential neighborhood is unimproved and has been for decades. This is prime waterfront land that begs for infrastructure improvement!

This scene is repeated throughout the harbor, not only in the Fort, but the now famous I-4 C-2 parcel. The Building Center’s once viable coal landing wharf is now reduced to rotted pilings. Next door, Peter Mullins former Empire Fish Co. wharf is just that, only a tie up facility for his herring boats. Any fish processing machinery vacated by the former owner is obsolete, inoperative and of no value. There is very little evidence of new capital investment around the harbor, especially on these properties I’ve listed.

Capt. Joe’s Wharf (Lobster Pot Storage) 2009

Onto Capt. Joe’s waterfront property off East Main Street, where at one time 200 Gorton Pew employees labored daily, processing fish on acres of waterfront uplands. Presently, two owners work there with an occasional part time helper unloading a few lobster boats on a seasonal basis. Finally, the Rocky Neck Gloucester Marine Railways appears to be on its last legs - another property succumbs to the downsizing of our fishing industry.

Huge freezers occupy valuable waterfront property. Fish-carrying steamers once arrived at the freezer wharfs on a regular basis. This hasn’t happened for at least ten years! Unlike decades ago, freezers no longer store any volume domestic fish products. Foreign raw material seafood products for local processors all arrive by truck. Wharfside vessel unloading is no longer necessary.

Lumpers Unloading Fish-carrying Steamers, Americold Freezer

If the city’s industrial development commission, charged with attracting industry, is looking for a future industrial park, they need look no further than our once thriving operating harbor. The inner harbor periphery should be today’s focus. Properties, such as the burned out Cape Ann Fisheries, Producers, and adjacent uplands should be allowed to build housing – yes – residential “condos”, high end, well-designed modern units, sending a signal that Gloucester is moving on.

Development of Waterfront Related Businesses

The I-4 C-2 parcel could be promoted as the location of a new modern downtown visitor hotel. The Building Center, originally the Gloucester Coal and Lumber Company, is no longer marine related and should be relocated. Gloucester cannot afford the convenience of a building materials retail store taking up space on waterfront property.

Gloucester Building Center, Harbor Loop

How about Capt. Joe’s property on East Main Street? Renew the entire wharf; invest in a marine-related seafood restaurant of sorts where boats dock and unload lobsters outside on the wharf in full view of the dining public. Consider off street parking below the public road, adjacent to the wharf, and possibly above the restaurant located on a second story. Every additional building elevation doubles the area on the same footprint. Let’s be creative!
Covered Fish Flakes on Gorton’s Wharf, East Main St., 1940,
Now Capt. Joe & Sons Wharf

The Rocky Neck Gloucester Marine Railways property with its two operating hauling tracks and travel lift, haven’t seen boat hauling action for months; most of their employees have moved on. The hand writing is on the wall. This is prime waterfront real estate, all but inactive save land storage for a few hauled out boats. Something must be done. Our once life-sustaining industrial center, OUR HARBOR, cries out for renewal....economic revitalization!!

Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong

There are many different opinions on ways to expand our housing inventory. We all agree that Gloucester’s buildable land mass is limited, in fact, becoming less as time goes on. Our industrial parks are at capacity level. Our obvious focus has to be on our changing industrial, underdeveloped waterfront. It is our harbor, as always, that holds the key for our changing 21st century Gloucester economy. We must make every effort to improve and utilize our harbor. This can be accomplished by incorporating a sensible mix of residential and business development. This concept should not necessarily be dependent upon fishing related revenue, but by tax- producing real estate, such as hotels, waterfront housing, commercial marinas, and vacation seasonal properties, all producing a steady cash flow to city coffers.

This is all pie in the sky if city officials and state representatives drop the ball in lobbying our state government to relax and/or rescind portions of our state mandated non-marine industrial use status. We must revisit and change our designated port area status.

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