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

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