Provincetown’s fisheries and their associated communities have evolved over the centuries, persisting today amid changes in the economy, regulation and the environment. Despite all the changes, fishing remains a vital industry in Provincetown, one that is firmly imprinted on the soul of the town. As harbormaster since 2005, I’ve balanced the needs of the fleet with public safety, environmental protection and public education.
Our 55-boat fleet is resilient and resourceful. When rebuilding our pier, a sustainable small-boat fishing fleet was at the heart of the plan, and today, almost 15 years later, that plan is working. We have lobster boats, some hook fishers, three aquaculture support vessels and commercial charter boats. Many of the boats can shift to tuna or other species when they run. We also have boats that focus on scalloping, and some that change over to groundfishing or midwater trawls based on the season.
The industry supports over 100 local year-round jobs. While some of our fishermen and women have to swing a hammer in the winter to make ends meet, none of these jobs can be filled by temporary or seasonal workers. All of them live on the Outer Cape. Younger fishers are getting into the business (including women working the boats) and the increase in boat product across the pier shows that we have passed a low point and are rebuilding our fleet. Landings in 2012 were valued at $5 million; in 2016, they grew to $9 million.
During the season, most of Provincetown’s product stays on the Outer Cape, multiplying the positive economic impact of the fleet. In contrast, most of Chatham’s product leaves the Cape for the auction and foreign markets.
Meeting the needs of our commercial fleet means more than providing berths. Space is required for working on boats and gear, loading and unloading, parking and storage. Ice is critical. In addition to fishing, Provincetown is a regional transportation hub and as such, has more than 200,000 passengers a year traveling to and from our pier on fast ferries. The pier is also home to a fleet of whale watch boats and excursion and charter vessels. Provincetown’s newly updated Municipal Harbor Plan provides a framework for balancing the various needs of all our users.
Our fleet is stable, and indeed growing. We are resilient and will continue to evolve with the changes in the industry. The soul of Provincetown is our working waterfront, and we are determined that it remain a vibrant part of our community.