No Snark Sunday, Post Fishing Reality

The future can be a scary place. For instance: at some point in the future you, dear reader, are dead. That’s kind of a downer. Sorry. But it’s also true that everything awesome that’s ever going to happen occurs in the future. It’s where every sandwich you will ever eat from here on out resides. The next season of your favorite show is out there. Every upcoming breakthrough and triumph and most importantly, it’s where our kids live.

Downtown Gloucester, 2017

Downtown Gloucester, 2017

The future is something we ignore at our, and especially their, peril. There are aspects of it we can control and lots more we can’t.  But while it makes sense to remain optimistic, being delusional is another thing entirely. So with that in mind, I feel that it is the responsibility of The Clam to point out that, regardless of how we got here and who’s to blame for what, it’s a very real possibility that the fishing industry in Gloucester may dwindle down to pretty much nothing.

There. We said it.

Understandably, that comes as a gut punch to a lot of people. It gets others mad and they start going on about catch limits and how tourist jobs suck and all kinds of things that are not germane to owning up to this very real possibility. And because people get mad, we don’t talk about it.

I’m becoming worried that in order not to hurt understandably upset people, we’re not speaking about this openly. I’m deeply concerned that leadership is not addressing it, as this is their, like, job and stuff. I’m terrified that the only place willing to openly state: “The fishing industry in Gloucester may very well be on a downward slide from which it will never recover” is a satire blog best known for imagined lists of nautical strip-club names and the term “assweasel.”

Weasels are assholes

Weasels are assholes

For years I have listened to convoluted mental gymnastics from smart people when they are even tangentially confronted with this idea. I have heard a few intelligent people say that the fishing industry in Gloucester is “on pause” which I suppose is a step in the right direction in the acceptance of a possible post-fishing future. But it sounds sort of weird when you think about it for a second, right? On pause? Things on pause have a way of not coming off pause, such as my relationship with Sarah Andrews which went on pause at the end of Spring semester in 1989. I saw her at a reunion a few weeks ago, she has two boys and owns a bakery in midcoast Maine. We’re still on pause.

Ask your leaders, “Should we plan for a post-fishing future?” If the answer is “no” then we need to know why. If the answer is “yes” then we need to know exactly what that plan is. We need to think and prepare for what we’re going to do without fishing if we accept that possibility as a real one. We need to be prepared to make changes and spend money. We need to do this calmly and without freaking out.

Oh, who am I kidding. Here, let me get that out of the way:

“You WANT this to happen because YOU aren’t from here/are an elitist snob/whatever”

No I don’t. I’d rather there be a robust fishing industry, but I’m also not a fool. Also: your doctor might be an elitist snob, but she also can tell you if you if that weird mole is a concern. Those two facts have little bearing on each other.

“The reason we’re opposing change is because we’re grieving our loss.”

Grief is fine to a point, but once it begins to make it difficult to do the work needed to make necessary change, it’s corrosive. Lots of industries have changed, even right here. Quarrying was once a huge thing, now it’s not. Change happens, it’s hard and yes, sad. But the trick is managing it. And on grief: Mom may be grieving Dad’s loss, but if she can’t afford to stay in the big house then she can’t. It’s up to us to help her do the right thing. Not talking about it is not helping.

“We’re going to become like Newburyport!




Not if we plan, not if we make some kind of real efforts to move forward will we come to resemble the most detested berg on the northern coast, a city whose name is spat like an epithet. But if we continue to do nothing, we’re going to wind up like Lynn after GE scaled down.

“You should have seen it back in…”

Stop. Stop right there. Nostalgia has, at this point, become a destructive force. I don’t want to hear about 40 years ago. I want to hear about ten years from now. We need to spend some time detaching ourselves from the past and figure out who we are now and who we plan to be. Sorry.

“Tourists Suck!”

Ok, fine. Give me another plan then. If we don’t want more tourists, then we need other business, but that’s even harder in a lot of ways. Businesses need the same stuff: hotels, restaurants, mixed use office spaces, parking. Businesses also require trained local employees, so get ready to spend a lot more on the schools. I’m ready for a non-tourist plan, though. Hit me.

“It’s over man! Game OVER!”

Pull your shit together, Hudson.

So, there. I said it. Be mad at me if if you want, but know this: I’m not responsible for catch limits or climate change or ground stocks or any of that stuff. I, honestly, don’t even want to have that discussion at this point because it feels like we’re on the Titanic, taking on water and all anyone wants to talk about is who was steering when and if the iceberg was tabular or non-tabular.

Sort of academic at this point

Sort of academic at this point

Be pissed at me, but know this: What I want is for the future of Gloucester to be as cool as any point in the past. That is all. We have resources that other communities would kill for, we have natural beauty by the fuckton, we have a formidable DIY spirit that will be essential as Western culture moves from passive consumers to situational creatives. We have the most visceral (to the point of frequently being alarming) group of out-of-the box thinkers you can imagine.

The future is going to get weird. And we’ve got just the right weirdos to meet it.

Clam, out.

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  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. This needs to said openly and often…and it need most especially to be discussed by city leadership, who need to stop kowtowing to reactionaries and stop being pussies. There are good, strong voices who won’t speak out because they are afraid of the reactionaries’ response – verbal or beyond. That is insane.

    Nostalgia is yesterday’s news.

  2. dorothyzbornakssholderpads

    “You WANT this to happen because YOU aren’t from here/are an elitist snob/whatever”

    No I don’t. I’d rather there be a robust fishing industry, but I’m also not a fool. Also: your doctor might be an elitist snob, but she also can tell you if you if that weird mole is a concern. Those two facts have little bearing on each other.”

    YES. This, all of this.

  3. Damn Jim…. can I have your tool belt? And your sawsall?

  4. About 10 years ago I was doing some consulting work for Mass DMF on scallop harvest. When I presented my final brief, the lead scientist said that I “…couldn’t say that…” since the predictions were not in the least optimistic, and they didn’t want to lose their funding. It was then that I began to lose interest in being a marine biologist. Science shouldn’t be censored for political gain, though sometimes it can show things that people don’t want to see. When I was a child, my hometown depended on the Salmon and herring fisheries. The Bolt Decision of 1972 devastated all marine fisheries overnight, and the town was forced to redefine itself, after suffering enormous hardship. I don’t want to see that happen here. Now is the time for us to figure out what we want to do when we grow up.

  5. I can’t believe I am the only other person who clicked “like.” Like, like, like. Action, please. Hard questions need to be put to her honor, the City Council, the candidates for State Rep. the endless Bruce Tarr, the denialists at the GDT, etc. etc. And they need to come up with answer, not platitudes.

  6. Sounds like you want to do things today that create a cool job for your kids ten years from now.

    Biotech. And since we have a harbor, marine biotech. I want to sequence the lobster genome starting next week and find out why they live so long.

  7. Any adult conversation about the future of Gloucester has to allow for the possibility that what we did in the past may not be what we do in the future. That should be rule number one, even if you want things to be the way they were, or the way you imagine they were. To not at least acknowledge that possibility is naive at best and exposes you to the risk that when denial is no longer an effective approach to managing change, you will wake up well too far down roads such as Gentrification Boulevard and Touristcrap Alley to change direction.

    Rule number two should be that It’s time to start simply ignoring conversation stopping arguments based what one person or group somehow deems, in a quasi-religious fashion, to be the “soul” of Gloucester because that is a gross violation of rule number one, and who appointed you arbiter of Gloucester’s soul anyhow? I’m not saying we shouldn’t all cherish our beliefs in what the soul of Gloucester is. We should ignore people who just want to impose their dogma on everyone else.

    We need practical baby steps forward. How about our water supply? Aren’t we getting a little tired of brown water, no water, chemical laced water, all at remarkably high prices? I’m a big fan of this one. You start to talk about schools or public safety, and a sizable number of people will want to get into a pissing contest about unions or the grudge they are still nursing from something that happened to them at O’Maley Middle School 35 years ago. Clean, fresh, water delivered dependably at a reasonable price – you’d think in the 21st century in the U.S.A. we could solve that one, maybe figure out how to have enough economic activity to pay for it.

  8. This raises many interesting dynamics for me. I was married to a man whose dad died at sea…and the devastation, guilt, hard times and shock of carrying forward as a family has remained among the surviving members like a legend. It is a cloud of true grief–economically, socially and emotionally that Gloucester fishing families who have experienced this do not wear lightly. It is a true part of the town’s makeup.
    Rocking the boat to shake that is painful to think on.
    But I also think huge fish catch days are gone.
    So could someone please invest some money to turn the Empire Building/Store into a three season farmer’s and craft market with a coffee roaster on the premises? And an Indian restaurant and outdoor seating on the Rogers Street side. And an underutilized fish store to be adventurous and work with all the talented local chefs.
    I also like the lobster studies ideas!

  9. Good challenge, Jim, and you’ve made a good case for the “why” part of Change. the next questions are figuring out the “what” and “how”‘, even in general terms for economic growth (something’s got to grow to fill the space left by fishing.)
    The only extractive work beyond fishing that comes to mind is farming and quarrying, but we probably want to aim higher.
    Educational institutions aren’t present at the post-HS level- Endicott’s making a go there. manufacturing has a fairly strong base tucked away in the nooks and crannies, at places from Varian/ Applied MaterIals to the shops that provide services to them-Speedway Welding, Rose’s Machine, Modern Heat…
    Is there much e-commerce/programming or life sciences base? I don’t know- let’s understand what exists and hear from the existing communities what they need to grow.

    I suspect lack of “space” and high real estate costs combined with distance are a big structural obstacle, but am not sure if that’s possible to overcome with current vacancies. New development is hard to come by and $$$$.

  10. Reblogged this on GoodMorningGloucester and commented:
    Chickity Check The Latest From James Dowd At The Clam

  11. Genomics Institute? Very cool. I did not know about that.

  12. OK, I thought I was going to hate this but once again, Jim, you managed to write this without resorting to the “othering” that has become such a big and unfortunate part of this conversation. You’re not from here and I’m third generation; that doesn’t mean we can’t have a civil conversation and respect each others’ opinion. We both love this place and want it to have a brilliant future. What a great starting point!
    I agree with much of what you say here. Especially that we need a plan. Fortunately, some very smart people have put in some excellent work on this. I’m referring to the Gloucester EDIC and their just published report, Gloucester EntrepreneurSHIP. Send me your email and I’ll shoot you a copy. It may give you heart.
    The formidable DIY spirit we all admire and want to be a part of here didn’t come from nowhere. Fishermen are the original entrepreneurs and risk takers. So yes, I stand by my comment that fishing is a big part of Gloucester’s soul.
    As to the question of the future. It may not be in my lifetime that the fish stocks rebuild. It may indeed be a long pause, and of course we can’t stand still just waiting for that to happen. And yea, we may screw things up so badly on this planet that the cod never come back. But what if we don’t? What if we manage to turn things around? Don’t we want Gloucester to be a part of that? Or do people really think fish are a bygone part of our food supply? If so I’d argue we’ve got a bigger problem than whether Gloucester preserves part of our DPA and seeks to honor our past while navigating the future.
    Gloucester’s economic development is a hugely important topic involving way more than the fishing industry. I worry that focusing on it over other things is something of a red herring (if you’ll pardon the pun). Anyway, thanks for another thoughtful, provocative piece.

    • THIS is the conversation we need to be having. And I want to say I moved here for that very soul. My family is from Lynn and Southie (proud stock, I know), I’ve seen good towns full of hardworking people fall on hard times. I’ll throw myself onto Joanie’s (repaired) sword before I see that happen here, to have tribalism knocks out vision once again. Gloucester is different than those places, we’ve got writers and artists and are far more tolerant of outsiders and differences of opinion. Everyone is going to be uncomfortable with the future.

      That’s how you can tell you’re doing it right.

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