In crowded Gloucester Harbor, condos, trawlers vie for dockside

The green fishing trawler Linda B glides into the harbor as scores of gulls circle and screech overhead. The skipper slows his boat, one of hundreds that work out of this harbor, and carefully pilots his way between the rows of docked trawlers. The harbor is so crowded that many boats are berthed three and four abreast.

Yet most of Gloucester's fishing fleet is at sea now, so the harbor isn't nearly as crowded as it can be, says Jamie Fay, a consultant to the city. At Christmas and other times when the fleet is in port, he says, ''you can almost walk across the harbor.''

Mr. Fay of the Boston consulting firm of McGrath, Sylva & Associates is working with Gloucester officials on a plan to develop a parcel of land fronting the harbor. The goal is to combine successful commercial development with needs of the fishermen.

Harbor Cove, the proposal unveiled last week, will do that, city officials say. The plans call for an 84-room hotel, a restaurant, offices, and shops. A condition placed on the developer requires him to maintain dockage for 15 fishing boats in front of his hotel.

The Gloucester fishing fleet includes about 178 boats year-round. In summer, that number swells, as boats from other areas - such as scallop boats from Virginia - seek out the fertile New England waters.

The fleet annually lands more than 160,000 tons of fish, ''more than any other port on the East Coast,'' according to John Leigh, executive director of the Gloucester Redevelopment Authority (GRA). Although there are 60 miles of shoreline in Gloucester, there are fewer than two miles in the inner harbor.

Meanwhile, great stretches of the Massachusetts coast have been cramped by development during the past few years. Condominiums, restaurants, and boutiques have brought substantial profits to developers. But along the harbors, such development has had the effect of squeezing out traditional water-based activities, such as fishing.

For instance, the push to develop Boston's waterfront caused a shortage of dock space for lobstermen, Fay notes. Landowners there ''don't want lobster boats,'' he says. ''They're looking at big bucks'' from condominium and commercial development.

Gloucester Mayor Richard Silva says that ''other cities have forced fishermen out and closed off the harbor. That is not going to happen in Gloucester.''

Fishing and tourism are the two major businesses in Gloucester, says Mr. Leigh of the GRA. The Harbor Cove plan shows ''the two can blend,'' he says.

The GRA established a committee to determine how best to develop the city-owned lot - two and a half acres of prime property sandwiched between the harbor and town's main thoroughfare.

Mr. Leigh says the committee set priorities for developers to follow. The first was space for fishermen; the second was public access to the waterfront; and the third was commercial activity to provide a boost to the slightly weathered business district.

Fay says city officials didn't want industrial development, and there was strong ''opposition to residential development.''

Condominium owners won't appreciate the diesel fumes and the roar of boats setting off for fishing grounds, he notes.

Some local fishermen, traditionally a closed-mouth group, have expressed skepticism about the project. Joe Turk at the Fisherman's Wharf cooperative says he sees ''no problem'' with the development. But one worker at the wharf predicted that the new dock space will be given to pleasure boats instead of fishing boats.

Mayor Silva, however, affirms that ''Gloucester is a fishing port first and foremost, and this project will provide docking facilities for our fishing fleet.''

Many fishermen have docking arrangements with landowners whose property fronts the harbor, Fay says. For instance, the Gloucester House Restaurant often has as many as a dozen boats moored alongside.

The Gloucester development is not the only one in the state that seeks to link the fishing industry with retail activity or tourism, Fay says. Provincetown, he explains, has plans for an $8 million renovation of the town wharf, but there's no way the Provincetown fishing fleet can support such an expense. The need ''is to put in some of the sort of development which can (help) support the project.''

In Gloucester, the state contributed to the Harbor Cove development by providing $516,000 to shore up the property's sagging bulkhead and build the wharf where the fishing boats will tie up.

Many people hope the Harbor Cove project will provide a boost to the business district. Edward Bond, the site developer, says he hopes the hotel complex will help revitalize the waterfront and encourage other downtown businesses to spruce up their appearances.

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