By John Pappalardo
The Massachusetts Economic Development Planning Council showed up on the Cape in mid-June, part of a state-wide barnstorming tour to hear from people on the ground, in the workforce, and in our case on the water.
The idea is to create a four-year plan with priorities for how Massachusetts should think about our economy, and what state government can do to move us in the right directions.
Yvonne Hao, new Secretary of the Executive Office of Economic Development, made the trip over the bridges to be in Chatham in person, which to my mind always is a good thing and much appreciated. Her staff led freewheeling break-out sessions in a packed house that included many familiar faces and voices from around the Cape.
You won’t be surprised to hear that we focused on commercial fishing and its crucial importance to the region’s economy and history. We came armed with some stats from the Division of Marine Fisheries:
- Commercial fishing in Massachusetts provides $839 million in ex-vessel value to fishing vessels. Using an accepted economic multiplier of 3.06 for that landed value, commercial fishing is worth $2.57 billion to the Massachusetts economy.
- Cape Cod represents 9 percent of the total value of the Commonwealth’s landings.
With these muscular stats as support, our strong recommendation is that commercial fisheries should be included as a key priority in the emerging economic development plan. Here are a few specific ways:
- Help make fisheries climate-resilient:
Fishermen need to invest in new gear, permits, or upgrade vessels to go farther offshore to deeper cooler waters. The scale of loans to accomplish this is larger than a micro loan but small enough so banks often won’t customize terms –especially due to fishing’s seasonal cash flows. The state should establish a low-interest loan program for independent owner-operators.
- Create more grant funds for training the next generation:
NOAA Sea Grant supported the planning of a Fishermen Training Framework for the Cape and islands. Now funds are needed to implement the program for new entrants and those wishing to grow their businesses. The state should apply a one-for-one match for federal training grants on the Cape as well as in Gloucester and New Bedford where training programs also exist.
- Streamline permitting to allow fishermen to participate in processing, selling, and/or transporting seafood:
During COVID, many independent fishermen and shellfishermen sold directly to an appreciative public from docks and decks, made possible by approvals and flexibility from the Commonwealth. Programs like these should be extended and expanded.
- Offer tax credits or incentives for Massachusetts food producers to buy Massachusetts seafood:
A manufacturer should dedicate a certain percentage of capacity to local proteins and then distribute those products into Massachusetts markets.
- Support the state’s only commercial shellfish hatchery:
Aquacultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Dennis is one of only two shellfish hatcheries in New England and provides the majority of seed to the Cape. ARC supports thousands of shellfish jobs and tens of thousands of recreational harvesters through municipal shellfish programs. The state should support ARC with grants or loans for projects like a new science lab, education space, and rebuilding a crucial seawall at the hatchery.
These are just a few of the specifics we offered. I thought it might be interesting for you to delve into these nuts and bolts, see how bigger picture thinking can translate into details and policy proposals.
The planning council hopes to complete its work with a comprehensive report, required by law, within the year. Here’s hoping commercial fisheries takes its rightful place in the Commonwealth’s thinking and initiatives.
John Pappalardo, CEO
Cape Cod Commercial Fisheries Alliance