NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is re-upping a pitch for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to open a site in the Whaling City.
The mayor recently co-signed a letter with more than 50 others, including business owners and local and state officials, to urge NOAA to consolidate its Northeast facilities in New Bedford.
In the letter addressed to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, the mayor and others want the agency to consider opening sites in New Bedford “when facilities owned or operated in the Northeast by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service are scheduled to be rebuilt or re-leased.”
“For decades New Bedford has had by far the largest concentration of NMFS-regulated entities in the Northeast, yet over time NMFS has established its facilities elsewhere in the region,” the letter said. “Of the approximately 400 NMFS positions in Massachusetts alone, eleven are assigned to New Bedford, even though the port accounts for approximately seventy percent of the state’s ex-vessel landings.”
“Nearly all are located instead in Gloucester, a port whose annual landings are approximately one-seventh of New Bedford, and in Woods Hole, which does not have industrial-scale fishing activity,” the letter continued.
Those who have advocated for the move to New Bedford say the separation of NMFS facilities from “the locus of fishing activity in the Northeast” has led to the fishing industry’s lack of trust in federal regulators.
“Because the industry does not feel heard, the legitimacy of fishing regulations is often called into question,” the letter said.
Mitchell argued that while NMFS has tried to create a better dialogue between fishermen and NMFS, the way it’s been approached hasn’t worked.
“It should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the industry that NMFS’s reliance on episodic conservations, perfunctory public hearings, and Zoom calls with fishermen have proven to be
inadequate substitutes for a more proximate, personal connection,” the letter said.
It’s not the first time the mayor and others have reached out.
In February 2016, Mitchell and others first wrote to then-Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, when NOAA was conducting a capital planning review of the Northeast Science Center. The group expressed the desire for NOAA to move to New Bedford, “the preeminent commercial fishing port on the East Coast and the top-grossing port in the country.”
“Given the port’s unique status regionally and nationally, we believe that NOAA has a historic opportunity to reset its relationship with the fishing industry and create conditions for a new era of respect, trust and collaboration,” the 2016 letter said.
So, why another push from Mitchell now, seven years after the city first expressed interest?
Mitchell said there are “several developments” that have made New Bedford’s case “even more compelling, if not more urgent.”
In, 2019 NOAA hired Deloitte LLP to assess the needs of future facilities. The analysis proposed a total of 184 NOAA positions should be moved from its current Gloucester facility to New Bedford, and 74 positions should be moved from its Cape Cod facilities to New Bedford.
Mitchell also referenced the Biden Administration’s “Justice40” policies and said those favor New Bedford over other existing sites.
The mayor also referenced NOAA’s own FY22-26 Strategic Plan, pointing out that “the plan
emphasizes the need for NOAA to engage with existing ocean industries, notably commercial fishing, and to promote new ones, particularly offshore wind.”
“To promote the successful coexistence of the two industries, and to preserve the legitimacy of the federal government’s policy decisions concerning the interaction of the two industries,
NMFS should place in the middle of the action, and that means New Bedford,” the letter said.
Mitchell said NOAA has taken steps that “appear to be at odds” with the recommendations of its staff concerning future New Bedford facilities, including extending its lease in Gloucester by five years and constructing a new facility to dock its NOAA research vessels in Newport.
“We believe that no other port on the East Coast has a comparable case on the merits for future NOAA facilities, as reflected in the career staff’s recommendations in the 2030 Footprint Initiative,” the letter said. “We stand ready to implement those recommendations, so that NOAA can be best positioned to execute its mission for the foreseeable future.”
The issue became a topic in the race U.S. Senate race in 2020. At the time, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey suggested that NOAA consider having locations in both New Bedford and Woods Hole.
The August 4. letter was also sent to Markey, in addition to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. William Keating, Asst. Administrator of NOAA-Fisheries Janet Coit, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscol and Gov. Maura Healey.