Here’s a guy whose brain Governor Charlie Baker should pick. And on the double.
Baker’s chief of staff, Steven Kadish, should scan the gubernatorial schedule and make room for Scituate fisherman Frank Mirarchi before the month is out. Why the urgency? Because our new governor himself has demanded it.
When you think about Baker and the fishing industry, you probably remember Baker’s weepy debate moment about that broad-and-salty fisherman who said he had ruined his son’s life by encouraging a life at sea, and the kerfuffle that followed when the burly fisherman couldn’t be located to prove his tale was true.
But what fishermen like Mirarchi remember is what Baker said after the election about the federal government’s move in November to effectively ban all commercial cod fishing off the coast of Massachusetts:
“I promise — I’m telling you point-blank — that this administration is going to directly engage this issue, and we are going to engage it early in giving it priority,” Baker told the Gloucester Daily Times.
Baker is concerned that the science behind the ban, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has relied on, might be too thin to warrant the closure of commercial and recreational fishing in parts of the Gulf of Maine. He wants the state’s scientists to take a look.
Frank Mirarchi is concerned, too. But in the ensuing emotional and polarizing conversation about economic disaster and scientific prevarication, Mirarchi’s voice is unusual for its measured tone, its historical context, and a reasonableness that comes from someone who’s been doing this for 50 years.
Step into the pilot house of his $600,000, 55-foot stern dragger tied up at Scituate’s town dock, and you’ll hear no tales of oceangoing derring-do. Instead, you get a sense of what a postgraduate course at an oceanographic institute must sound like.
“In my lifetime, I’ve seen fish come and fish go,” he said as snow flurries fell into the frigid harbor. “Some of it’s generated by us fishing. Some of it’s not.”
He has no doubt that the Gulf of Maine, the waters right off our coast, is growing warmer. “We’re seeing species of fish that don’t belong here. Things like squid and butterfish, which should be down at Montauk,” he said.
Mirarchi has been fishing full time since 1965. He bought his first boat in 1967 and remembers when he was making more money that his landlubber friends. He also remembers how, after the US established a 200-mile limit in 1976, overfishing depleted the fishing stocks dramatically.
“It got better because of regulation,” said Mirarchi, a member of many quasi-governing fishing boards over the years. “An unregulated fishery is not going to work, either. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.”
What Mirarchi, whose boat is up for sale, wants is for fishermen to play a more vibrant part in the stock assessment that has led to the cod restrictions. He wants better net technology so fishermen can catch more haddock, now plentiful, and fewer cod. He supports the call for more robust electronic monitoring to more precisely measure the catch.
In short, he wants a rational debate.
By the way, he says he knows Baker’s elusive fisherman. He sat next to the big guy at a recent hearing about the crisis. Mirarchi has a similar story. His son followed him to sea, too, forgoing college, and has come to regret it.
“It screwed up my son’s life,” he said.
It’s easy to see fishermen like Frank Mirarchi as the last cowboy on the dinosaur ranch, or the buggy whip salesman at the dawn of the Model T.
NOAA insists its science is solid. Still, maybe there’s a solution out there.
It’s been said that the governor often considers himself — with good reason — the smartest man in most rooms he enters.
When he sits down and talks to Frank Mirarchi about fish, that will not be true.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.