Massachusetts congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Joseph P. Kennedy III said Friday that government scientists working for NOAA Fisheries should be headquartered in New Bedford instead of in Woods Hole, the scenic community on Cape Cod that hosts a half-dozen leading scientific institutions.

"We have the most important fishing port in the country here. And we have the scientists that have enormous influence about that port decide to be over there instead. Why would you do that?" Kennedy said during a campaign visit to New Bedford's working waterfront.

The Democrat, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator Ed Markey in the Sept. 1 primary, said the concept would move 200 jobs to the city, provide an important investment in an anchor institution, and say to commercial fishermen "that we want your opinion, we need your opinion, and we want to get this right.”

The now-obsolete Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole was completed in 1961, and plans have been afoot to replace it. "It's going to get rebuilt. The question is where," said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

NOAA Fisheries, or the National Marine Fisheries Services, maintains five such science centers spread from Virginia to Maine. The labs, among other things, collect fisheries population data to inform public policy around regulating the commercial fishing industry.

Friday's event was held outdoors at Pier 3, and was attended by Mitchell, former mayor Scott Lang, several members of the City Council, fisheries advocates, members of the public, and the local media.

The relationship between the commercial fishing industry and the federal regulators has been a historically troubled one marked by distrust. Ever-shifting rules around catch limits, quotas, and at-sea monitors have imposed costs and created economic challenges for fishing fleets. What's more, fishermen have claimed over the years that NOAA's stock assessments often don't mirror what they observe at sea.

The agency says its prime focus is maintaining a sustainable fishery. NOAA Fisheries "works with the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office to ensure informed management decisions based on sound science," the agency states.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Back in 2016, Mitchell and others wrote to NOAA asking them to build the new facility in New Bedford. He said the move would "restore the agency's credibility" and facilitate communication between scientists and those involved in the actual fisheries they study.

"If you want to solve a problem, the saying goes, you need to put people in the same room," the New Bedford mayor wrote at the time. "Physical proximity tends to foster communication."

In response, communities on Cape Cod pushed back and lobbied to keep the facility in Barnstable County. At the time, NOAA said it preferred to stay on the Cape. But since then, the New Bedford Port Authority and others have pushed NOAA for a new feasibility study.

Kennedy during his visit touted the value of the "Blue Economy" to the region, including fishing and fish processing, offshore wind, port facilities, marine technology and research, and marine science.

Kennedy said the federal government should "support and strengthen what's happening on the ground" and make investments to position the region as a global Blue Economy leader.

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