Coastal commerce impacts tackled in new report

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 4, 2017…..Settled four centuries ago by seafaring pilgrims, Massachusetts continues to draw sustenance from the water as more than 90,000 people are employed in its maritime economy, according to a new report.

The Bay State’s maritime economy accounts for $6.4 billion, or 1.3 percent, of its gross state product, and it has outpaced other industries, according to a report commissioned by the Seaport Economic Council.

Fishing, marine transportation and tourism are some of the fields that make up the sector, according to the report, which highlighted offshore wind and aquaculture as “two opportunities” for the marine economy. In 2013, Massachusetts had an estimated 145 aquaculture operations generating $18 million in revenue, and while no offshore wind has yet been installed off the coast of Massachusetts, it has “the largest offshore wind potential of any U.S. state,” according to the report.

The report will inform the council in its work to promote job growth on the coast and prepare for sea-level rise. The council anticipates awarding about $8 million in grants over the next year and a half, according to the Baker administration.

“This council is focused on the economics of our coastline and the waters that exist here and leveraging those natural assets and those infrastructure assets for more jobs and more economic development,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chairs the council and said it has given out about $20 million in grants. “My hope is that we continue to protect and preserve our resources and at the same time build a talent pool that can really fuel these emerging industries and promote what we have here in our Commonwealth.”

At a council meeting on Tuesday, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia said major companies that have moved into the Spindle City need “workforce training.”

“We’re in jeopardy of losing those types of companies if we can’t produce the workforce they need,” Correia cautioned.

Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth, said business leaders in the marine industries expressed concern about taxes, regulations and other business costs, and were interested in preserving ocean resources, and marketing their industries.

Goodman, who helped write the report, said research and development in marine technology has been less successful at finding commercial applications for its products – such as underwater robots – than innovators in other technology fields.

The report also said Massachusetts exported $445 million worth of fish and other marine animals in 2015, and imported $2 billion of those same products.

“There’s an untapped market for eating our own fish,” Goodman told the council. He said, “We import a lot of fish. It’s hard to know where your fish comes from.”

Sen. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said the Baker administration’s council is more attuned to promoting economic development than prior efforts to assist the state’s coastal communities.

“The focus has been sharpened from one that was broadly infrastructural to one that is much more focused on economic development, and I think they’re looking more closely than they have in the past at the connection between an investment of public dollars and a return in terms of employment and economic activity,” Tarr told the News Service.

The report said the state established 10 designated port areas intended to protect water-dependent industrial uses. Port cities seeking to bring research and education to their waterfronts would need “flexibility” from current strictures to accomplish that, according to the report. Tarr also wants flexibility for people with businesses operating within the designated port areas.

“There are limited activities that those property owners can conduct, and that limits their access to capital,” Tarr said. “So on the one hand we’re saying these are critical pieces of infrastructure for the state and because of that we’re regulating them, and on the other hand we’ve been unwilling to put major infusions of capital in to keep them alive so I think we need to be more consistent in the message that comes from state government.”

Copyright 2017 State House News Service