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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Massachusetts fishermen form business alliances to survive industry changes

  • Vito Giacalone is a third-generation fisherman, with a rich fishing history that trails back to family members on both sides being heavily involved in the industry, a trend that started with one of his grandfathers in Sicily.

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  • Vito Giacalone is a third-generation fisherman, with a rich fishing history that trails back to family members on both sides being heavily involved in the industry, a trend that started with one of his grandfathers in Sicily.
    It was almost inevitable that he become a fisherman, and he did that as a youth, fishing out of Gloucester, Mass., from 1977-88, before taking time out to get into construction. It wasn’t until 2000, when he bought a boat and got back into the industry, that he realized things had become far more complex than when his grandfather was first putting his nets in the water.
    “I had a lot of responsibilities,” says Giacalone. “I have four children who were young then, but my passion was fishing. I couldn’t believe in the short time that I got back at just how crazy and complex things had gotten with the laws and the rules.”
    Truly, the past 20 years or so have seen increased government regulations and a push for greater environmental consciousness when it comes to local waters, which translated to the piling on of more restrictions on the industry that helped to form Gloucester’s identity: Fishing sectors designated by the government. Catch-share restrictions. Days-at-sea restrictions.
    All of these combined to create complex set of rules and regulations that the everyday fisherman would be challenged to overcome on their own, taking on a whole new level of meaning considering this was an industry bred and sustained on independence.
    This challenge reached a new level in 2006 with the announcement of construction of a Deep Water Port to install natural gas lines approximately 13 miles to the southeast of the coast of Gloucester
    “It looked like Armageddon was going to hit us,” says Giacalone. “We had a very large, open meeting. It was not an organization by any stretch. There were people from across the region; we determined we needed a regional voice. You can’t just have Gloucester ... We’ve always been polarized in this industry. Our fishing communities were very self-dependent but very ineffective from a political standpoint, and we lost a lot of ground over the years by not working together.”
    Flash forward to the present day, and the Gloucester fishing industry has apparently survived that “Armageddon.” It’s not like things were in the city’s heyday, but there is still a functioning –– and just as important, organized –– fishing industry.
    One of the key reasons for this is the organization of groups, such as the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund. The GFCPF was developed to help assist and organize fishing contracts under the current government-run mandate of separating coastal real estate into sectors –– sectors that the federal government watches over closely. The non-profit organization has helped to keep boats and nets in the water for about three years and truly assisted in keeping the fishing industry alive.
    Page 2 of 4 - “I won’t call it one big happy family, but it’s a family,” says Giacalone, president of the GFCPF, which operates with a small staff and a board of directors overseeing all key decisions. “We were able to reconcile our differences so far, and we’re going on to our third year. We had 42 vessels from Gloucester who qualified when we originally enrolled with the intent to be active in sectors, prior to sectors being started. Out of that 42, 40 have had some fishing activity this year. It’s a total misrepresentation to say that 40 vessels are doing well, or are even solvent or profitable by any stretch, but they’re still here. It isn’t over yet.
    “This is the least amount of loss or consolidation that I’ve seen since being here, following a major action,” Giacalone continues. “We’ve had major adjustments or frameworks. For every one of those I’ve seen, it’s been followed by a substantial 15-20 percent consolidation in numbers.”
    “There are a lot of people who didn’t know about the history, how we got the money, what is done with the money,” says fisherman Joe Orlando, owner of the Padre Pio. “Some people don’t understand: The books are there. It’s a public thing. This has been great for Gloucester.”
    That history reaches back to 2006-07, when the seeds for the GFCPF were planted while Giacalone acted as the liaison between the fishing community of Gloucester and the government. Giacalone stepped up to the plate to do this work, thanks to his unique blend of knowledge in the business and negotiating realm, along with this knowledge of the fishing industry. That being said, he wasn’t the only one among the fishing community aware that there were some severe challenges proposed by the fishing regulations of the time.
    “The tool of managing days-at-sea was too crude,” says Giacalone. “The trip limits closed areas and amount of days at seas; when you’re managing three species, that’s fine. When you’re managing 19 interdependent species that compete with each other and are caught sometimes at the same time, you’ve got the wrong tool to complete that task. The tool was becoming increasingly obsolete.”
    During the fact-finding period where the government was studying the effects of the DWP project, the National Environmental Policy Act director contacted Giacalone after reading what he submitted on behalf of local fishermen. As a result, he was able to gain an audience with the state explaining the precarious situation for Gloucester fishermen due to restrictions at the time. He proposed a permit bank as a possible resolution within the confines of the proposed sector system and the already-in-place days-at-sea restrictions.
    “The permit bank is a mechanism in the regulations that allows whatever currency is allocated in each permit to be leased to other permits,” explains Giacalone. “If you need extra days at sea, as long as you could find a permit within your leasing parameters, and could convince the owner of that permit to lease it to you, then you could purchase it.
    Page 3 of 4 - Giacalone continues: “We said, ‘Let’s buy a bunch of permits of all different sizes, then go through the complexity of matching them. It was a matter of making sure we had the right blend of permit sizes in our portfolio, and then distribute them to Gloucester fishermen.”
    The money used to purchase those permits came from the government itself. The study put together by the government agreed with Giacalone that the fishermen off the coast of Massachusetts would likely be affected by the construction of the DWP, which was constructed as a means of installing natural gas lines off the coast. As a result, the government was willing to provide a total of $12 million in total to a fund for local fishermen. $10 million of that was to be set aside for Gloucester, with the remaining $1 million each set aside for Boston area and Cape Cod area fishermen, respectively.
    The caveat was that in order to receive the money and distribute it, certain parameters needed to be in place first: The fishermen in each area had to organize as a non-profit, and receive the blessing of the IRS in the form of a 501c3 certificate. As a result, the GFCPF was formed to this end. Being the first to the table to certify as a 501c3 in 2008, the government gave the full amount of $12 million to the GFCPF, split in half, over the next two years, with the intent that once the Cape Cod and Boston fishermen received their certification, the $1 million set aside for each would be distributed to those respective groups.
    That transfer of funds took place in 2010, with the $2 million total going to Cape Cod and Boston-area fishermen at that time. This information was made public at the end of 2011 when tax documentation from the previous year was made available to the public.
    Closer to home, the concept of the permit bank has helped to resolve some issues that the previous days-at-sea system created. Look at the gillnet sector, which has certainly seen a reduction in number of vessels in the water. Giacalone estimates that reduction at about 12 fewer than before implementation of the sector system and permit bank, but to paint it as a loss of active fishermen within the active community would be a mistake.
    “One of the effort controls of the old days-at-sea system was that they made gillnets take their gear out of the water for 120-day blocks each year,” says Giacalone. “How does a guy feed his family if he takes a third of the year out of the equation? He buys an extra boat; a lot of times it was the same two guys, captain and crew, or three guys, captain and two crew, alternating vessels. Tie one vessel up, and let it go on the 120-day block, then jump in the other boat and continue working.
    Page 4 of 4 - “When the sectors came in, we were able to do away with the 120-day block because we could do direct management,” he continues. “This made the second boat go away, which counts as a loss in the Gloucester ground fish fleet as a result of sectors, as far as vessel count goes. It’s not indicative of what we lost in fishing jobs.”
    “People in Gloucester are benefiting from it,” Orlando says of the current permit bank system. “Fishermen, even seaside facilities. It was a great gift. I don’t know why people get any misconceptions about it. All the people involved all know about it, and what’s going to be done with it. Here it is, and it’s done great things.”

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