CHATHAM – Seth Rolbein, a long-time Cape journalist and former senior advisor to Cape and Islands Senator Dan Wolf, was named director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust last week.
Rolbein will work with the trust's current director, Paul Parker, through the end of the year, when Parker will head up a new organization that will seek to bring the trust's model of community ownership and management of fishing quotas and permits to fishing communities throughout the country.
As a writer, journalist and close associate of Wolf, Rolbein has been interested in the Cape's commercial fishing industry “forever,” he said in an interview last week.
“This combines a lot of stuff I care about and I've learned about over the last 40 years living and working around the Cape,” he said. “It really speaks to something very essential to Cape Cod. This small boat fleet is really essential to the character and economy of the Cape, if we're going to remain a healthy, engaged community.”
As director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, Rolbein's job is to “make sure financially and structurally that the trust really supports the small boat fleet,” he said. “It's a challenging time. That really makes it an interesting moment to step into the work.
“There's also a public policy aspect to this,” he added, involving interacting with state and federal government agencies, areas in which he's moved for the last half dozen years. Wolf, who is not running for re-election this year, worked closely with the Cape Cod Fishermen's Alliance, under which the trust operates, and the region's fishermen, Rolbein said.
The trust began purchasing quotas in 2008 and currently owns more than six million pounds of scallop, groundfish and surf clam quotas, which it leases to small-boat fishermen at an affordable rate. By doing so, the quota permits are kept out of the hands of deep-pocket, large-scale fishing businesses and remain local, helping to solidify and strengthen the region's small-boat commercial fisheries. It also supports fishermen through a revolving loan program in association with the Community Development Partnership, which also provides business planning and technical assistance.
For the past few years, Parker said, he's been working to bring the trust model of permit banking to other fishing communities around the country. A number already have fledgling organizations already involved in permit and quota banking, and the new organization he will head, called Catch Together, will help with leadership, human resources and operational support and assist in honing the groups' missions and leasing criteria.
The organization will be based on the Cape and will work with six to eight existing groups in Martha's Vineyard, Maine, California, Washington, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, said Parker.
“We're hopeful to be able to have that kind of reach,” he said, adding that fishing communities in those areas are dealing with “very similar issues to Cape Cod.”
Last year, the trust put out a guide to help other communities trying to protect local fishing industries called “Banking on Your Fishing Future.” Parker said staff member Erica Murphy developed an e-learning curriculum to to teach about the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust model. Kelly Wachowicz, who came to the organization on a Bloomberg grant, is now on staff working on financial issues, including developing a capital platform to help communities finance or buy quotas.
Parker said he'll continue working with the trust for the next three months and start to transition full-time to the Catch Together organization during the first quarter of next year. He said he “couldn't be happier” leaving the trust in Rolbein's hands.
“He's a great person for this role. He has fantastic people skills, and really has a great long-term appreciation for the importance of the commercial fishing industry,” he said.
Rolbein has worked on the Cape as a writer and journalist since the 1970s. He spent time at WGBH-TV in Boston as a writer, reporter and documentary filmmaker, and wrote for regional and national publications including the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He was editor of the Cape Cod Newspapers chain before founding the Cape Cod Voice. During Wolf's three terms in the state senate, Rolbein served as chief of staff and senior advisor.
His first priority, Rolbein said, is “making sure the fisheries trust stays strong.” Because of federal regulations, building the trust, especially in the scallop and groundfish industries, has to be done “carefully and smartly,” he said, “but I think there's an opportunity.” The region's small-boat fleet is “more than a living connection to our history, it is a vital element of our economy and a key to keeping our communities healthy because it helps maintain local control and opportunity for working families, and provides fresh local food for all of us.”
“I'm really looking forward to talking to as many of the great fishermen and fisherwomen around here that I can,” said Rolbein, “and really listening to them and hearing what their concerns are and what they see as how the trust can help.”