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


  1. It seems like there is plenty of space on the Gloucester Harbor waterfront to satisfy everyone's needs.

  2. Rob: In 1946 the Master Mariner's yearbook listed advertisers were 19 major fish processing plants doing business on 60% of Gloucester's waterfront, handling millions of pounds of fish daily. Remember, not every plant worked every day; fish landings by nature were sporadic, therefore, there was plenty of downtime even though we had phenomenal landings in that post WW II era.
    Ron Gilson