วันศุกร์ที่ 28 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2551

Case over for blast victims

Karen Savini saw two homes destroyed in a chemical explosion at a factory in Danversport two years ago, costing her thousands of dollars and saddling her with several hundred thousand dollars in new mortgage debt.

But she expects to get only about 20 cents for every $1 she spent to rebuild her properties, as part of a $7 million settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit. The settlement fulfills terms of the nonprofit Danversport Trust set up by residents and business owners.

"There isn't a lot of money to go around," said Savini, whose homes are on Bates and Riverside streets. "A lot of people lost a lot of money with this. None of us will be getting very much."

Multiple lawsuits filed by insurance companies against CAI Inc. of Georgetown and Arnel Co. of Danvers, which jointly operated the factory, are also covered in the settlement. Residents formed the nonprofit Danversport Trust last year to work out a settlement. Separately, a class action lawsuit was filed by a boat owner in December 2006. Lawyers for each group decided last year to work together on a single settlement.

The $7 million represents the total amount of insurance the two companies carried on the factory, which exploded in a fireball Nov. 22, 2006. More than 100 homes, including 26 that had to be torn down and rebuilt, were damaged, along with businesses, boats, and personal property. People have until Nov. 30 to file claims for the settlement. About 200 to 300 claims could be received by the deadline, a lawyer for the residents said.

The settlement calls for $5.5 million to go to insurance companies that have already paid claims estimated at $25 million to residents, businesses, boat owners, and other victims. Since insurance companies are receiving about 20 cents on the dollar paid out, residents can expect to receive the same rate, a lawyer for residents said.

"There is really no explanation as to why they only had $7 million," said Peter A. Lagorio, one of three lawyers representing residents. "It's clear there is not a lot to go around."

Savini said residents, many of whom lived in hotels or apartments for more than a year, know there is limited insurance to go around. But that does not mean they are happy, she said.

"People are just not happy with how their lawyers handled things," she said. CAI and Arnel "lawyers were pretty tough."

W. Paul Needham, a lawyer for CAI and Arnel, said the settlement agreement was the safest financial route for the company. "It was settled for insurance coverage," he said. "It allowed them to move on with their business. It was hard to say 'no' to that."

วันจันทร์ที่ 10 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2551

World's Saddest Web Page

Ever wanted to buy a 25-foot sailboat? Got $200 on you?
It could be yours. Just head to the world's saddest web page, where a company called U.S. Auctions is getting rid of Ike-damaged boats.

Click on a boat, then click through to the auction page, and you'll find boats worth six or seven figures going for three figures.

For $102 (at the moment), you could get a 1967 23-foot sloop. It is, of course, "as is."


Boat does not appear to have been submerged. No holes in hull. Bottom of vessel is in good condition. Fiberglass damage hull/deck joint around entire boat. Rub rail is missing. Tiller and rudder are in good condition. Doors are missing on cuddy cabin. There are scratches to gel coat 360 degrees around hull and in poor condition. Mast and sails are missing. Four winches onboard. The Pearson 23 is a day sailor with small cuddy cabin forward. Large cockpit with seating for 6 people. No batteries. No electronics. Forward cabin, no cushions. No head. Mast is broken off at deck level and missing. Boom is good. No sails. No engine. No trailer included.
As the economy keeps heading south, we remember the old joke about a boat being "a hole in the water into which you pour tons of money," and we can't help thinking there are some former boat owners, paid off by their insurance companies, who aren't exactly cursing Hurricane Ike.

วันเสาร์ที่ 1 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2551

Haul For Scalloper Bruce Gibbs

CHATHAM — By his own account, scallop fisherman Bruce Gibbs has spent more than three decades playing by the rules, fishing legally and sustainably when not all of his colleagues did. Now, those rules are likely to put an end to his fishing days, leaving the 67-year-old man without a boat, a house or a livelihood.

Under a recently adopted rule designed to weed out inactive fishing permits, federal regulators decided to issue general category licenses only to fishermen who held a permit on Nov. 1, 2004, and who had landed at least 1,000 pounds of scallops in any year between 2000 and 2004. Though Gibbs didn’t have a license on that control date, he was working in the fishery on a leased boat and landed more than 20,000 pounds of scallops.

Gibbs is currently making his third appeal to federal fisheries regulators, and everyone from local harbormasters to Washington lawmakers have sent letters supporting his bid. But with his personal finances in shambles, Gibbs said he can’t go on any longer.

“I’m done,” he said, heaving fishing gear into the back of his truck. Gibbs is getting rid of his gear and has put his boat, the Atlantic Queen, on the market.

Gibbs’ story is compelling and unusual, but he’s not alone. Hundreds of other small-boat fishermen from Maine to the Mid-Atlantic have been shut out by the new scallop rules

Proud heritage

Gibbs’ colorful past includes a stint working with his father as a fur trapper; his father, Stan, was an avid angler and went on to invent the famous Gibbs Lures, which are still in production today. His son first fished commercially for scallops in 1976 aboard the Golden Arrow, out of Wychmere Harbor; his other boats included the Gipper, the Big Red and the Gipper II.

Though the industry was virtually unregulated when Gibbs first went scalloping, declines in shellfish landings prompted more regulations. In the mid ‘80s, the New England Fishery Management Council put in place rules to curb landings, and before long there was a thriving black market in undersized scallops. In 1988, Gibbs helped lead a campaign to bring the problem to the attention of council members.

Even at that stage, there was a clear competition between large boats from New Bedford and other large ports, and the inshore fleet from places like Chatham and Harwich, Gibbs said. Gibbs said the skipper of one big scallop dragger once bragged that he had been fishing in Canadian waters 10 miles over the Hague Line, and when they were confronted by an approaching patrol boat, he had ordered his crew to sabotage some of the fishing gear so they could claim they were just passing through, headed for port. By the late ‘80s, Gibbs was openly arguing for increased conservation measures.

Working 110 to 120 hours per week, Gibbs designed and outfitted his boats, doing most of the engine work and other repairs. By 1988, he was running two boats: one in Fairhaven and one in Saquatucket Harbor. He had fished up and down the East Coast, visiting various ports between Maine and the Carolinas.

The collapse

It was in 1990 that the sea scallop fishery collapsed, and Gibbs lost almost everything. He was forced to sell both fishing boats and declare bankruptcy. During the years that followed, Gibbs was officially out of the fishery.

“I was trying to fight for myself, trying to pay my bills,” he said. His plan was to pay off his debts and rebuild his finances, eventually buying another boat and getting back into the scallop fishery. He made a living clamming and quahogging, and in early 2004 he had an arrangement to lease and ultimately buy a tuna boat, re-rigging it for the scallop fishery. Though he had landed 55 full trips before the control date, the boat and the license were not his, and the sale fell through.

At the time, fishermen didn’t know the significance of that Nov. 1, 2004 control date. Gibbs went on to eventually purchase his current boat, the 51-foot steel-hulled Atlantic Queen. As he did with his other boats, Gibbs completely re-rigged the Atlantic Queen, fabricating much of the gear and welding it in place. It’s a good boat, easily able to handle the weather on the far reaches of Georges Bank, he said.

Regulators put in place limited access permits for larger boats, and inshore boats with lower landings histories received general access permits with a catch limit of 400 pounds of scallops per day. Then the issue became clearer: how to divide up the allowable catch of scallops each year.

Dividing the pie

“The big boats didn’t want to divide the pie up,” Gibbs said. Several years ago, general permit holders began to organize to try and reserve their share of the catch, and Gibbs organized a meeting of around 25 local scallopers at his house. Gibbs was named president of the group, and began attending more and more fisheries council meetings.

“I spoke at those meetings, more than anybody there, just to tell them, this is wrong,” he said. Some of the limited access permit holders argued that the small boats should be limited to 2 percent of the catch, Gibbs said. “They argued that for years. The big boats pushed it.” Eventually, advocates for small boats had the number increased to 5 percent. Gibbs and others argued that the number was still far too low, but to no avail.

Between 600 and 700 small boats found themselves vying for their share of the 5 percent, and slices of the pie became so small that license holders couldn’t make a go of it, Gibbs said. With revenues way down, “they can’t even pay for their dockage, hardly,” he said. So the decision was made to reduce the number of people in the fishery by cracking down on “latent permits,” ones that are not being used but are held by fishermen as an investment or an insurance policy.

To that end, regulators ruled that, unless a fisherman had a valid permit on the control date and had met landings requirements, he or she couldn’t receive a new permit. Under this rule, Gibbs clearly does not meet the requirements for a permit, and so is closed out of the fishery.

Unlike bay scallops, sea scallops are experiencing a strong stock recovery. Various stock assessments and landings reports seem to confirm that there are plenty of sea scallops to be had, Gibbs said.

“It’s not about the resource,” he said of the fishing regulations. “All of this is totally unnecessary. It’s all greed-driven.”

Bob Keese, who runs the scalloper Beggar’s Banquet out of Chatham, said he’s known and respected Gibbs for years. “But Bruce is not alone. There aren’t too many people who are going to be left when this is all said and done,” Keese said. Keese is a member of the fishery council’s scallop advisory panel, and he said he’s fought from the start for a bigger share of the pie for small boats.

“It was very blatantly big business rolling over small business,” he said. At council meetings, a couple of small-time fishermen would be speaking against a panel of four or five highly-paid lawyers and lobbyists representing the big boats, “and they’re really good at what they do,” Keese said.

Keese’s own brother, Andy, was also shut out by the new rules. Andy Keese scallops with Alane, his wife, aboard the Miss Rockville out of Chatham. The two bought their boat just before the control date, and were still outfitting the boat when the control date passed. Because they weren’t fishing, they were shut out.

Appeals pending

In July, Gibbs filed an appeal to Patricia Kurkul, the regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Chatham Harbormaster Stuart Smith wrote in support of the appeal. Saying Gibbs has “consistently complied with the changing scallop industry” and served the community in various fishing-related organizations, Smith suggested that regulators “grandfather” Gibbs, giving his history in the fishery. It seems unfair, Smith noted, that Gibbs would be excluded from making a livelihood because of circumstances beyond his control.

Harwich Harbormaster Tom Leach also supported the appeal, saying the scallop fishery has been Gibbs’ sole source of income for more than 30 years.

“To see the proverbial ‘rug pulled out from under him’ at this point, being literally blindsided through no fault of his own, seems totally unfair, cruel and unusual punishment,” Leach wrote.

A letter jointly signed by Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator John Kerry echoed those sentiments.

“Given the uniqueness of this case and his long history as a scallop fisherman, we urge you to give his request for appeal the highest consideration,” they wrote. Congressman William Delahunt penned a similar letter.

Gibbs said after his first appeal was denied, he requested a hearing. Instead, he was granted a brief telephone interview.

“That’s not having your day in court,” he said. That request was also denied, and his third and final appeal is still pending, Gibbs said. Shortly after regulators granted his request for a temporary authorization to fish while waiting for word on his appeal, catch limits were met and the fishery was closed. “And guess what? All my bills are due, and I can’t pay them,” he said. Gibbs said he owes a large amount of money on his boat, and has outstanding bills for insurance, fuel and gear. Earlier this month, the town of Harwich notified Gibbs that, if he doesn’t pay his $1,948 dockage fee for the current year, along with a deposit for next year’s fee, the Atlantic Queen will need to be removed from its slip.

Paul Parker of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association said Gibbs is an institution among local fishermen. Over the years, the association has consistently opposed the use of individual fishing quotas, which carve up the resource into shares that can be bought and sold. When permits take on monetary value, “these are the social costs. Great, great people with lifelong careers and dedication to an industry being set aside,” Parker said.

Parker is helping establish the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, a nonprofit group which aims to buy up fishing permits and lease them out to small boat fishermen struggling to survive. At a certain point, Parker said, it became clear that the quota system was here to stay, and steps needed to be taken to help fishermen to stay in the industry. “This is exactly the type of situation that the fisheries trust is trying to remedy,” Parker said. Three local scallop fishermen have already received permit assistance from the trust, he said, but even those who have permits of their own will almost certainly need to buy additional permits to allow them to land enough scallops to make a living. Parker says he doesn’t know of a single scalloper who can make a living on the landings allowed in his initial permit allocation. It’s not unlike the plight of groundfishermen, who’ve had to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in permits just to remain viable.

Any fisherman on Cape Cod can apply for help from the trust, but some think their energy is better spent fighting the quota system, Parker said. He said he admires Gibbs for fighting a tough fight.

Walking through his yard, Gibbs shows off his collection of antique farm equipment, part of an outdoor collection that includes scallop dredges, fishing gear and other curiosities. He said he has placed his boat on the market, but is not optimistic it will yield anything close to its real value, since it is rigged for a fishery that is so tightly controlled. Like most fishermen, Gibbs has a variety of marketable skills, but after so many years at sea, he doesn’t think he’d be good working on land. He also wouldn’t be happy running a boat for another fisherman.

“I’m not a very good employee,” he quipped.