While it is true that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is exploring the possibility of moving the Northeast Fisheries Science Center out of Woods Hole, the NEFSC’s science and research director said any decision regarding a move is a long way off.
William A. Karp said that Congress is currently preparing its budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Any decision regarding the fate of NEFSC operations in its current facility on Water Street will not be made before then, he said.
“There’s always the possibility of a recommendation to move, but that’s not where we’re at right now,” Dr. Karp said when reached by phone on Monday, December 28,.
It has been years since NOAA and the Department of Commerce evaluated the feasibility of the existing facility, Dr. Karp said. He said it remains to be decided whether NOAA will renovate and build upon the existing building or move the science center into a new space.
“It’s an exciting phase to be in, talking about a new facility,” he said.
Falmouth selectmen, along with Captain John T. Moakley of the NEFSC, expressed concern last week over news of the potential move, citing the NEFSC’s history in Woods Hole dating back to 1885. NOAA’s chief of research communications Teri Frady said a new facility is being considered as a possible means of consolidating all NEFSC operations in one building. The science center houses its observer program on Carlson Lane, while its social sciences department operates out of leased space in the Falmouth Technology Park. The organization also operates a warehouse in Pocasset.
Dr. Karp confirmed that the need for more space is a driving factor behind looking into a new facility.
“It has far more people operating there than was initially intended,” he said of the current facility.
While there may not be enough space to house all of the science center’s operations on Water Street, Dr. Karp said keeping some of the operations at the current facility is an option. NOAA could also move the NEFSC to another location in the village, he said.
Staff at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory also have a stake in keeping the NEFSC on Water Street. Letters from both organizations were sent to Governor Charles D. Baker Jr., Congressman William R. Keating, and Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth A. Warren expressing their support for keeping the science center in Woods Hole.
“There’s no other place where you can get that synergy between these different agencies,” said Laurence P. Madin, executive vice president and director of research for WHOI.
MBL president and director Huntington F. Willard called Dr. Karp “a great partner for the MBL.” He too raised concern with the potential ripple effect moving the science center would have on the village’s research community.
“This is a village of science,” Dr. Willard said. “The science of marine life is in the DNA of Woods Hole. That’s my greatest concern with losing the fisheries.”
The NEFSC has had a long history of collaboration with both WHOI and MBL, Dr. Madin said. In the 1990s, staff from both organizations worked closely as part of the GLOBEC Program, a federally funded research program that analyzed the ecology and marine life in Georges Bank. WHOI and the NEFSC are also two of five institutions that work together as part of the Cooperative Institute for North Atlantic Research (CINAR), which conducts stock assessments and other research for NOAA.
“They’re really a huge part of the Woods Hole research community here,” Dr. Madin said. “I think it would be a loss to the many scientists not only there, but also here if they can’t work in the area.”
Dr. Karp said any decision on whether to move the NEFSC out of its longtime home will be done with consideration of such a move’s impact on the scientific community in Woods Hole, as well as that of the town.
“That’s a major part of the deliberations,” Dr. Karp said. “It’s important for us to maintain those relationships.”