PROVINCETOWN — The Public Pier Corp. has raised the slip fees on seven MacMillan Pier tenants and rescinded permission for the Mayflower II to land here in September.
The Pier Corp. board also reviewed plans for the pandemic-altered Portuguese Festival, which will this year be a private affair where boats will be blessed from the harbormaster’s launch rather than from the pier, packed with onlookers, or from the 900-passenger Provincetown II Boston ferry.
In an action-packed virtual meeting on May 28, the Pier Corp. denied appeals by Leo Rose and John Browne. Those two fishermen were among seven who had been paying discounted slip fees as commercial fishermen, but have now been reassigned by the Pier Corp. staff, said Leslie Sandberg, a public relations consultant for the Pier Corp. board.
Pier Corp. staff found that Rose and Browne, both tenants for the last 17 years, failed to meet the definition of “commercial fisherman” — that is, someone who spends most of his working time at sea fishing, according to Pier Corp. board member Scott Fraser.
Rose landed only four tuna last year, Fraser said.
Brown’s landing reports stated that he caught five fish in 2019, Fraser added.
The Pier Corp. reclassified both men as “limited commercial fishermen,” which means they must pay $128.62 per foot for a spot at MacMillan Pier instead of the commercial rate of $64.10 per foot.
For Rose, that means his fee went from $2,564 for his 40-foot boat to $5,144.80, according to Sandberg.
Browne shares a slip at the pier, and though sharing slips is not really allowed, Sandberg said, it was tolerated under the management of former harbormaster Rex McKinsey. Last season, Browne paid $1,282 for his 20-foot boat. His new rate as a limited commercial fisherman is $2,572.
There are people who spend 150 or more days fishing, Fraser said, and some of them are waiting for those slips.
Chris LaMarco, who identified himself as Rose’s spokesman, argued that the rules are vague and the distinction between “commercial” and “limited commercial” isn’t clear.
“Changing rules in the middle of the pandemic isn’t fair,” said LaMarco, “and sounds like discrimination based on Mr. Rose’s age.”
“We’re not changing the rules,” Fraser replied. He said the Pier Corp. was simply enforcing existing regulations that were not being enforced.
Browne’s wife, Frances Coco, argued that Browne, who caught his first striper at age 12, has not had a lot of landings because “it’s like a fish desert” these days, with very few striped bass.
Fraser said Browne had failed to report the number of his trips, as required in the application for a commercial slip.
Two other commercial slip tenants, David Flaherty and Jeff Souza, are also appealing their reclassification as limited commercial fishermen. Their appeals will be argued by attorney William Henchy of Orleans at the Pier Corp.’s June 11 meeting.
The three remaining fishermen who have been reclassified have not appealed the change, Sandberg said.
The reclassifications are part of the Pier Corp.’s efforts to reform the way the waterfront is managed. It has added two new staff, a pier manager and harbormaster, and given Rex McKinsey, who previously did both jobs, the title “marine coordinator.”
The discounted rates for 54 slips on MacMillan Pier are designed to support the commercial fleet, said Sandberg.
Sandberg’s job is also new, though it’s not full-time, but based on an hourly fee. Her firm, Rose, Sandberg & Associates, was hired on an “as needed” basis. Faced with harsh criticism from some fishermen and others in town, the Pier Corp. members decided a public relations strategist would help them, said Regina Binder, chair of the Pier Corp.
So far, Sandberg has done “public affairs advising, including drafting correspondence, research issues, drafting talking points, and strategic problem solving,” she said. Her rate is $100 an hour. She has been paid $3,500 for services rendered between Feb. 1 and May 31, she said.
In two final pieces of business on May 28, the Pier Corp. rescinded its invitation to the Plimoth Plantation’s Mayflower II, a replica of the Pilgrims’ ship, which was due to come to Provincetown in September as part of the 400th anniversary of the original Mayflower’s landing here.
The 400 celebration events have gone the way of the Fourth of July parade and Carnival — cancelled in order to stop people from gathering in large groups to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
And the board discussed the plan to discourage crowds from gathering at the pier during the annual Blessing of the Fleet by having the blessings done from a small boat. Even getting Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha, of the Fall River Diocese, to come to Provincetown as usual is not a sure thing, said Donald Murphy, organizer of the Portuguese Festival. But the festival committee members are determined to celebrate a Mass, as usual, followed by a private blessing of the boats in the harbor.
“No parade, no dancing — it will not be as it was in the past,” Pier Manager Doug Boulanger said. “It is private. The thought process is to have one harbormaster vessel driving around and blessing the boats by water.”