Housing, malls squeeze Gloucester fishermen. Seaside sites in demand all around New England

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

First-year lobsterman Stephen Favazza eyes the crowded harbor as he nears the pier. It's a busy and humid Saturday morning in Harbor Cove, an area for docking commercial fishing boats. Skillfully he squeezes his small craft alongside another lobster boat. Finding docking space is getting harder all the time, Mr. Favazza says. With a recent wave of condominium development along the waterfront and the possibility of a shopping mall along the inner harbor, Gloucester's boats are finding less docking space, particularly its fishing boats.

Waterfront development ``is making Gloucester more of a pleasure city than a fishing industry city,'' Favazza says as he dumps ice over herring he uses for bait.

Gloucester is not alone. Ports all around New England face similar problems. ``You need a watchdog for every parcel of land up and down the coast,'' says Caitlin Morris of the Massachusetts Inshore Draggermen's Association.

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Indeed, Gloucester fishermen say that less thought is being given to the fishing industry as more developers are buying up waterfront property. But the Gloucester fishing community did score points this spring when the City Council, in a controversial vote, passed a moratorium on housing development along the downtown harbor.

A debate over the proposed shopping mall is the latest round in an ongoing waterfront land battle. The mall, touristy and modern, is to be made up of 20-to-25 retail stores and two restaurants. It has received local approval but is still awaiting a go-ahead from the state's Department of Quality Engineering.

Mall proponents see it as an opportunity to stimulate the city's economy and create jobs. Jamie Fay, a development consultant for the Gloucester Landing project, says the plan's design is based on ``mixed use'' to accommodate the needs of the fishermen as well as the commercial needs of the city.

But other residents are skeptical. Feisty Angela Sanfillipo, born into a fishing family and married to a lifelong fisherman, is president of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. She says the mall plans don't allow enough dock space for larger boats and leave little room for fishermen to load supplies. ``We are a natural commercial harbor,'' she says. ``Our main concern is to preserve the waterfront for the fishing industry and the public.''

It's a familiar concern for New England fishermen. For example, in Boston the Fan Pier project, a huge office-retail complex, will squeeze out many of the city's smaller piers, says Jim Fair of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Department. Past efforts to rebuild the harbor and keep it as a working harbor have been only mildly successful, he says.

The shortage of dock space in Newport, R.I., has forced that city to close its port to any new commercial fishermen, says Ms. Morris of the Draggermen's Association. This spring, Portland, Maine, issued a moratorium on all commercial waterfront development unrelated to marine use. Morris says that activists in New Bedford, Mass., have submitted a similar proposal to the City Council there.

Some observers point to the current status of the US fishing industry and question whether fishermen have a legitimate gripe against developers. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, in 1986 the US imported 64.5 percent of its edible fish supply. Also, over the past five to seven years, the supply of traditional fish, such as haddock and cod, has decreased, says Edward MacLeod of the National Marine Fisheries Service. ``[Many fishermen] have been tempted to sell out,'' Mr. MacLeod says.

Some, however, say that controlling waterfront development should be geared not only toward protecting fishermen but also toward protecting the public's right to free access to the coastline.

To control the spread of haphazard waterfront development, coastal cities need to plan harbor growth and provide for city development, says Wally Lesyneski, chairman of the harbor commission in Newburyport, Mass. Last June that city began the task of planning the growth of its harbor under a new program offered by the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Department. Only a handful of Massachusetts cities have so far looked into the planning program, says Barbara Ingrum of the CZM. The program is designed for a 10-year period of growth. It will take into consideration the natural resources that a city may wish to protect as well as a planned direction of growth.

``[It's] a plan for anyone who wants to do something for the waterfront,'' Mr. Lesyneski says. Although the harbor plan will be tailored to reflect the diverse needs of the city - including industrial, commercial, and recreational usage, Lesyneski is particulary pleased with its attention to the fishing community.

The Newburyport fishing industry has been relatively small and often ignored in the past few years, he says. Fishing boats were more or less on their own to find docking space before, he says, but the new plan is designed to set aside docking space for them. ``We are well on our way to giving the fish industry a boost they never had.''

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