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The following column appeared in The Boston Globe on 11/7/03
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


Tangled line on Fish Pier
By Steve Bailey, Globe Columnist

There may be no better place to consider the future of our city -- and all the tensions that come with that future -- than Northern Avenue, just beside Jimmy's Harborside, the frozen-in-time Boston landmark that remains a favorite of mine, glacial service and all.

To the left, Manulife Financial Corp., the new out-of-town buyer of John Hancock Financial Services, is building a brilliant glass tower, which may or may not one day be filled with busy insurance types, depending on how the whole merger thing finally shakes out. At the same time the Massachusetts Port Authority is hard at work building a handsome front lawn for Manulife, a $5 million park complete with a cafe and graceful pergolas where those white-collar workers can enjoy their lunchtime. Yesterday the place was alive with workmen, trucks, and cranes.

To the right, Jerry Tirrell's ice house is a desolate, rattletrap of a building that looks like it could slide into the harbor come the next northeaster. Tirrell's ice house may not be much to look at, but for decades it has been a critical piece of Boston's ancient Fish Pier, supplying ice by the ton to the city's under-the-gun fishing boats and fish processors. Yesterday Tirrell was still churning out ice -- but not for long. Massport, his landlord, is expected to shutter the place at any moment, citing the precarious pilings below.

Massport, always the heavy, says it is committed to saving Tirrell and Boston's Fish Pier. Maybe it is. But, so far, the giant agency that controls the airport, the port, and acres of prime real estate on the waterfront has shown far greater urgency in delivering a park to New Boston than extended leases to Old Boston.

Don't blame us, says Massport. ''We are ready to go,'' says spokesman Jose Juves, who blames the delay on Tirrell's failure to develop final plans for a new ice house. Tirrell, at the insistence of his lawyer, is keeping his mouth shut. ''If Massport gets its dander up, I'm screwed,'' Tirrell told me. ''I need a lease.''

Sal Patania, whose family-owned Ideal Seafood depends on Tirrell for ice, puts it this way: ''If the ice house goes, there is going to be a domino effect.''

The fishing business can't take too many more dominoes. As the Globe's Beth Daley and Gareth Cook chronicled so well in their four-part series last week, the region's three-centuries-old fishing industry has been brought to the brink through a series of ill-conceived man-made decisions -- such as not enforcing firm annual limits on the catch while subsidizing the over-expansion of the fishing fleet. This week the council that oversees the industry moved to restrict the fishing of the most vulnerable species.

A damaging storm is blowing through the fishing world, and Massport needs to live up to its word to help, not hinder. In the state approvals to build the Manulife park, for instance, Massport promised to work to ensure the viability of the Fish Pier, including providing subsidies for operations and capital improvements.

Among those promises made in writing: Massport ''shall expeditiously take steps necessary to execute leases for the Fish Pier.'' Massport also promised to provide ''a lease with Tirrell Services for the continued operation of an ice production facility at the Fish Pier, including anticipated construction of a new facility.''

We've been talking about this for too long. Fishing is no longer critical to Boston's economy, but it remains a piece of who we are. The new Manulife building, next to the Fidelity office and hotel towers, next to the new convention center, is an important part of any New Boston. But people like Jerry Tirrell and Sal Patania are solid citizens of the Old Boston. We would be mistaken to toss them overboard.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at 617-929-2902 or at bailey@globe.com.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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