Falmouth and New Bedford Battle Across Buzzards Bay for NOAA Headquarters

WOODS HOLE – A dispute across Buzzards Bay may break out between Falmouth and the City of New Bedford.

The Falmouth Board of Selectmen has been working to keep the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

Other elected officials in the area have also been lobbying for NOAA to keep the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole for weeks.

In late September, Falmouth selectmen teamed up with Barnstable County state representatives and state senators, area chambers of commerce, directors from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the Woods Hole Research Center to pen a letter to the federal agency urging them to stay put in the small section of Falmouth.

Operations Chief of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center Garth Smelser responded to that letter, and met with Falmouth and Barnstable County officials on Friday to discuss the possible move.

“For almost 150 years we’ve been studying fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and the marine environments that sustain them, and right here in Barnstable County we have over 300 employees and contractors that complete that work. The Fisheries Commission started right here in our community. We’ve been doing wonderful marine science for those 150 years,” Smelser told elected officials. “Yes, we are very proud of our presence in Woods Hole, but we’re much bigger than just Woods Hole. We have 225 federal staff and 165 contract staff spread around the east coast from Orono, Maine all the way down to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The majority of our folks are centered in Woods Hole, but we’re just as proud of our other people.”

Falmouth’s fight to keep the center may turn into a fight across Buzzards Bay, as the City of New Bedford, the top fishing port in the United States, has been renewing its efforts to bring the center to its massive working waterfront.

In early September, the New Bedford Port Authority, elected officials, and members of the city’s fishing industry also penned a letter to NOAA. In that letter, the city made its case as the optimal location for the center, and requested a new feasibility study.

New Bedford isn’t alone in the campaign to move NOAA’s Fisheries Science Center across the bay. Representatives of fishing vessels from New Bedford and Fairhaven, as well as vessels from Maine, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina added signatures to the letter.

“We are working to determine the future of our federal footprint,” Smelser added. 

The Woods Hole location serves as the headquarters of a series of NOAA labs in Narragansett, Rhode Island; Orono, Maine; Sandy Hook, New Jersey; and Milford, Connecticut.

“There’s lots of great science going on in that somewhat antiquated facility, where we manage over 40 fishery stocks, we’re serving over 11 coastal states and three management bodies that we report to. In other words, the science is serving the policy and management,” said Smelser. “We give science a seat at the table to guide the policy and management that’s so important to us and brings fish from the fishing boats and onto our tables.”

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center

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