The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is exploring the possibility of relocating the Northeast Fisheries Science Center to a new facility outside of Woods Hole.
NOAA’s chief of research communications Teri Frady said Monday that the United States Department of Commerce, which oversees the NEFSC, has been evaluating the feasibility of the existing facility for about a year. She said a report will be completed by spring 2016 outlining options for the facility, which could include moving operations to a new building outside of Woods Hole.
The fisheries center, which operates as a research division of NOAA Fisheries, was founded by Spencer Fullerton Baird upon his appointment by President Ulysses S. Grant as the country’s first fisheries commissioner in 1871. The original facility was built on Water Street in 1885. After the facility was destroyed during Hurricane Carol, the current building was constructed in the same location in 1961.
Today, the Woods Hole branch manages operations of four other fisheries laboratories in the northeast, including those in Sandy Hook, New Jersey; Milford, Connecticut; Narragansett, Rhode Island; and Orono, Maine.
Ms. Frady said NOAA sees relocating as a way of possibly bringing all the fisheries operations together. In addition to its headquarters on Water Street, the fisheries 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.
“We’re a bit spread out, so part of this is about bringing everything under one roof,” Ms. Frady said.
Captain John T. Moakley, chief of operations, management, and information for the Woods Hole facility, said the loss of the Henry B. Bigelow, the fisheries’ 208-foot, $60 million research vessel, played a role in NOAA’s decision to explore moving the organization out of Woods Hole. The Bigelow, which was commissioned in 2007 to replace the Albatross IV, currently operates out of Newport, Rhode Island, leaving the Woods Hole facility without a research vessel.
On Wednesday, Captain Moakley said Governor Charles D. Baker, Jr., Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth A. Warren, and Congressman William R. Keating did not do enough to protect the fisheries’ interests and keep the Bigelow in Woods Hole.
“We haven’t had Senator Warren, Senator Markey, Congressman Keating, or Governor Baker come visit us at all,” he said. Calls made to the offices of Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Governor Baker were not returned as of press time.
Lauren Amendolara McDermott, communications director for Congressman Keating, expressed Congressman Keating’s support for keeping the fisheries center in Woods Hole.
“The Northeast Fisheries Science Center plays an important role in the academic and scientific community on Cape Cod, a role that Congressman Keating would like to see continue given the many resources available,” Ms. McDermott stated in an e-mail on Wednesday.
Losing the fisheries center would negatively impact both businesses and members of the scientific community in Woods Hole, Captain Moakley said. The fisheries center collaborates with both the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on different programs and grants, he said, while the fisheries’ estimated 150 contracted and federal employees support local restaurants and businesses in the area.
“We’ve been a good neighbor,” he said. “We have businesses that rely on these people.”
Selectmen voted Monday night to draft a letter to NOAA’s deputy undersecretary of operations, Vice Admiral Michael S. Devany, expressing their desire to see the fisheries center remain in Woods Hole. The board will a copy of the letter to Governor Baker, Senators Markey and Warren, and Congressman Keating. A similar letter was sent to NOAA by then WHOI president and director, Susan K. Avery, in May, while MBL president and director, Huntington F. Willard, also wrote NOAA with concerns about losing the fisheries center in July. Captain Moakley said the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce could also send a letter to NOAA.
The news was met with concern by selectmen, who questioned how the fisheries center’s relocation would negatively impact both the scientific community and the town at large. Selectman Samuel H. Patterson expressed concern that the fisheries center’s standing as a leader in marine research would be compromised if it uproots itself from Woods Hole.
“For them to move somewhere else with the resources that are available here, that’s unbelievable,” he said.
“I’m stunned that they’re considering it as an option,” selectmen chairman Douglas H. Jones said.
While she supported sending the letter to Vice Admiral Devany, selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn questioned if sending a letter will be enough to get NOAA’s attention. She said numerous letters were written by town and state officials to try and keep the Bigelow in Woods Hole with little result.
“Is this enough?” Ms. Flynn asked. “It didn’t help us keep the Bigelow.”
Selectman Susan L. Moran suggested that town manager Julian M. Suso try and arrange an in-person meeting with Vice Admiral Devany to express the town’s concern over possibly losing the fisheries center.
“I think it would be great to personalize it,” she said. Ms. Frady said that there are no plans for representatives from NOAA to meet with town officials.
Ms. Frady said that the issue of whether to relocate the fisheries center is “not a local decision,” but one that will be in large part dictated by the Department of Commerce. However, she said any decision made regarding the status of the fisheries center in Woods Hole will be done with consideration to the possible effects that relocating the organization will have on the town.
“They [The Department of Commerce] make these decisions based on costs and benefits, but also the effect on the local community,” she said.