Carolyn Kirk: Report from the Front Line

This week, The Tufts Environmental Studies Department Lunch & Learn Program hosted Carolyn Kirk from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (HED) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She is currently the Deputy Secretary at the HED, but also spent four terms as the mayor of Gloucester, MA.
Carolyn Kirk "Climate Change: Report from the Front Lines"Kirk spoke about her experience as mayor dealing with increasingly hard to predict weather in a coastal fishing city. Gloucester has 62 miles of coastline with over 400 years of commercial fishing history. The city of approximately 30,000 (60,000 in the summer) has seen 10,000 lives lost at sea over the years. Obviously, unpredictable weather patterns have a large and very personal effect on the people of Gloucester.

The fishery is regulated by the NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, federal agencies with limited capacity for local involvement. Environmentalists, fishermen and the agencies frequently find themselves in battle over the fisheries. Recent reports declare the fish stocks severely depleted, while the fishermen claim that their occupation has been “underscienced.” According to Kirk, fishermen know where and how to find fish, and they know that fish habits have changed in the last several years. Climate change and rising ocean temperatures mean fish are moving from their traditional grounds, so federal fish-counting science must adapt accordingly.

The increasingly regulated fishing industry has resulted in Gloucester altering its economic development strategies, focusing now on tourism (Gloucester Schooner Festival, Gloucester HarborWalk) and marine science and technology (check out the SnotBot and Robotic Tuna). Fisherman are developing markets for less common species and switching from high-volume fishing to lower-volume, high-value fish.

In recent years, increasingly dire FEMA floodmap reports have led to skyrocketing home insurance rates. Waterfront business and economic development has been difficult due to these issues in addition to planning difficult mitigation strategies for the future effects of climate change. Kirk brought together an emergency preparedness team from Gloucester’s Department of Public Works, Police Department, Fire Department, Coast Guard, Department of Public Health, the school department, and the harbormaster, which creates plans for dealing with unpredicted weather events. There is also a community emergency response program, CERT, to prepare citizens for dealing with emergency situations.

The schedule of this years Lunch & Learn Program events can be found here.