'Rusty and broken'

A street on Boston's Beacon Hill, an epicenter of  Lowell family activities.

A street on Boston's Beacon Hill, an epicenter of  Lowell family activities.

"The vine leaves against the brick walls of my house,
Are rusty and broken.
Dead leaves gather under the pine-trees,
The brittle boughs of lilac-bushes
Sweep against the stars.
And I sit under a lamp
Trying to write down the emptiness of my heart.
Even the cat will not stay with me,
But prefers the rain
Under the meager shelter of a cellar window. ''

-- "November,''  by Amy Lowell

Don Pesci: P.T. Barnum, Trump and Connecticut politics

Likeness of showman and Bridgeport Mayor P.T. Barnum on the Bridgeport centennial half dollar commemorative coin,  minted in 1936 to celebrate the centennial of the incorporation of the city. 

Likeness of showman and Bridgeport Mayor P.T. Barnum on the Bridgeport centennial half dollar commemorative coin,  minted in 1936 to celebrate the centennial of the incorporation of the city. 

President Trump does not like the press he is receiving. The press – we now call it the media, because bloggers and ideologues with knives in their brains have been folded into it – convinced of its moral rectitude, begs to differ. Trump’s press notices would be very much different if he were the media, and his Twitter activity has been taken by some as an attempt to offset this lamentable deficiency.

Trump has been setting the day’s press calendar by tweet-twerking. He is, his Democratic and Republican opponents insist, the presidential equivalent of the-guy-in-a-bathrobe-in-his-mom’s-cellar turning the world upside down by loosing upon it nuclear-tipped declarations. To Trump, tweets may be no more than a new colorful crayon in his box of tricks. To the contra-Trump media, they are a threat that must be disposed of, as the Sixties radicals used to say, “by any means necessary.”

The anti-Trump media so far has been successfully baited. The New York Times and the Washington Post have been so unforgivingly anti-Trump that they appear to Americanus Ordinarius to be purposefully unhinged, confirmation that Trump’s relentless opponents are either disappointed establishment congressional timeservers, part of the D.C. swamp  that Trump has pledged to drain, or reporters and editors longing for a return to the balmy days of President Obama, an interregnum that allowed them to snooze at their keyboards while the president performed cosmetic surgery on the face of Mother America.

Throughout the first year of the Trump Presidency, which already feels ancient, bruised Democratic and Republican opponents were rubbing their sore noggins and wondering groggily, as Hillary Clinton did in her most recent book, What Happened?

Ya’got mugged. That’s what happened. And, as the majority of Americans who did not buy Lady Clinton’s latest book suppose, you perhaps deserved it. Since he first stepped out of the cradle, self-advertising has been Trump’s business. He has been compared to President Andy Jackson, the hero of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s  biography The Age Of Jackson. Before Jackson was devalued a decade ago by squeamish Democrats, the seventh president rightly had been considered the father of the modern Democratic Party. Others think that Trump is the 21st Century’s reincarnation of P.T. Barnum, who was, people tend to forget, a pretty savvy state legislator and mayor of Bridgeport, Conn.

Energetic and forward-looking, Barnum was an early abolitionist. He protested against the city’s saloons, pushed for prisoners to have work, and modernized Bridgeport’s utilities. Barnum certainly would not have been pleased to learn that Bridgeport politics has become something of a two-ring felony circus: Current Mayor Joe Gamin, now exploring a run for governor, spent years in prison for corruption, and  Ernie Newton, having spent more than four years in prison, is returning to his roots in Barnum’s old haunts, which Mr. Newton served in the state General Assembly.

Trump’s name has been invoked by leading Democrats and some media analysts as a cautionary tale that Republicans in Connecticut would do well to heed. According to some Democrats, presidential toxicity will infect Connecticut Republicans in the state who perversely refuse to denounce the nominal head of the national Republican Party. The  Republican leader in the Connecticut House of Representatives, Themis Klarides, already has been reproved for supporting the nominal head of her party.

Voters in Connecticut will be asked during the upcoming 2018 race, if only indirectly, whether they believe a president or a governor wields more political influence in Connecticut. The correct answer to the question is: Governors play a more decisive role in state government than presidents, however toxic.

Oddly enough, the upcoming elections in Connecticut will in large measure be a contest between two politicians not running for office in the state: Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has lame-ducked himself, and Trump, who is at best a moving target.

Both Connecticut U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have taken turns thwacking the Trump piñata.  In recent remarks, Murphy has suggested that Trump may be batty and therefore impeachable. "We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests," said Murphy, who often dashes in where even devils would fear to tread.

Impeachment and salacious behavior in the post-Harvey Weinstein period, some political watchers suppose, could be a touchy matter for Democrats, many of whom, including Connecticut moral avatars Blumenthal and Murphy, have enthusiastically supported impeached President Clinton and his wife, co-President and First Lady Hillary Clinton, who has only recently discovered the moral impropriety of married men sexually mauling women. The late political provocateur Christopher Hitchens wrote a whole book about this titled No One Left To Lie To that probably did not sell as many copies as What Happened?

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based political and cultural essayist.

Chuck Collins: Stop talking about 'winners and losers' in GOP tax scam

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Via OtherWords.org

Republicans are pushing a huge corporate tax cut bill through Congress. You might’ve seen a lot of coverage trying to sort out “who wins” and “who loses.”

All that misses the point.

The driving motivation behind this bill, rhetoric and packaging aside, is to deliver a whopping $1 trillion tax cut for a few hundred badly behaved global corporations — and another half a trillion to expand tax breaks and loopholes for multi-millionaires and billionaires.

All the other features of proposed tax legislation are either bribes (“sweeteners”) to help pass the bill or “pay fors” to offset their cost.

The news media has been talking about “winners and losers” like this were some sort of high-minded tax reform process with legitimate trade-offs, as in 1986.

But this isn’t tax reform. This is a money grab by powerful corporate interests.

The key question isn’t who wins and loses, but whether we should undertake any of these trade-offs to give massive tax breaks to companies like Apple, Nike, Pfizer and General Electric — companies whose loyalty to U.S. communities and workers is historically abysmal.

These companies have been dodging their taxes for decades while small businesses and ordinary taxpayers pick up their slack to care for our veterans, maintain our infrastructure, and educate the next generation.

Apple alone is holding $250 billion in offshore subsidiaries to reduce its taxes.

For wealthy individuals, the proposed House tax bill eliminates the federal estate tax, which is paid exclusively by families with over $11 million, mostly residing in coastal states.

It eliminates the Alternative Minimum Tax, a provision that ensures that wealthy taxpayers chip in at least a few dollars after gaming all their possible deductions.

And while the top tax rate on high earners remains roughly the same, Congress is proposing to open up a “pass through loophole” that will enable wealthy people and their tax accountants to convert their income to be taxed at a lower tax rate.

We should avoid distracting debates over whether to reform one provision or another, such as the home mortgage interest deduction. The real estate industry understands the score. “These corporations are getting a major tax cut, and it’s getting paid for by the equity in American homes,” said Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders.

Reforming the home mortgage interest deduction makes a lot of sense — the current tax break mostly benefits the already wealthy and fails to expand homeownership. But we shouldn’t restructure housing tax incentives to pay for a massive tax cut for billionaires and badly behaved global corporations.

Nor should we eliminate the deductibility of student debt, eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, or require families with catastrophic health expenses to pay more to reduce taxes on big drug companies and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. This tax bill would do all of those things.

The good news is people aren’t falling for the marketing baloney that this tax cut will help the middle class. Fewer than 30 percent of voters support these tax cuts, and solid majorities believe that the wealthy and global corporations should pay more taxes, not less.

But this won’t stop Republicans who care more about their campaign contributors than they do about voters.

If the GOP majority in Congress were responsive to voters, they’d invest in updating our aging infrastructure and in skills-based education, as we did after World War Two. Instead of saddling the next generation with tens of thousands in student debt, real leaders would be figuring out how to lift up tomorrow’s workers and entrepreneurs, just as we did in previous generations.

Under this tax plan, small business and ordinary taxpayers will be the big losers. That’s the only score that matters.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits Inequality.org. 

Scofield Thayer: Genius, Modernism and madness

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Coming soon: Stroke of Genius: Scofield Thayer, the  thrilling movie about how Thayer, a rich young man from Worcester, helped bring some of the greatest figures of  Modernism to the  rapt attention of America  -- before he went insane. His main  vehicle was the now legendary magazine The Dial, where for a few years he showed himself as the most brilliant editor in America. He was also a poet, and he amassed one of the nation's greatest collections of modern art.

To see the preview of the film, please hit this link.

To see  the film's Facebook page, please hit this link.

Scofield Thayer.

Scofield Thayer.

'Thousand shifting nuances'

View of Gloucester Harbor, circa 1915.

View of Gloucester Harbor, circa 1915.

"Not infrequently this almost landlocked bowl of the heavenliest light you ever experienced, in its thousand shifting nuances from day to night and night to day,  scowl to smile, season to season, has been compared to the Bay of Naples alone. And many the traveler has rounded the world, only to return, gaze about him, breathe a deep sigh, and announce as if he had the tablets in hand at last that there was nowhere, anywhere, for that interplay of land and sea and sky and inhabitants to surpass the old, old fishing port of Gloucester, on the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay.''

 

-- From The North Shore, by Joseph E. Garland

Training for the underwater industry

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From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Here's an example of both New England interstate collaboration and of using our region’s comparative advantage in marine affairs:

The University of Rhode Island and the University of Connecticut have created a joint venture called the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, at UConn’s Avery Point campus, in Groton. Researchers there will collaborate with General Dynamics’s Electric Boat unit, based in Groton and with a big operation at Quonset, as well as with Navy institutions in the region, which are concentrated on Aquidneck Island. Indeed, the center got a $1.3  million grant from the Office of Naval Research in August, with the aim of preparing students to work in shipbuilding, reports the Providence Business News.

Somehow, such projects look more promising for the region’s economy than, say, helping some rich folks finance a baseball stadium for their team in Pawtucket, much as I love the PawSox.

Kurt Hesch, Electric Boat’s chief operating officer, said of the new center:

“The intellectual horsepower and state-of-the art research facilities at the universities provide the tools necessary to research technologies so that industry partners can transition them for integration onto undersea vehicles.’’

 

A guide to some of New England's grandest houses and gardens

Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Mass., one of the stately homes featured in Dr. Mason's guidebook. It was built in 1884 at the height of the Gilded Age as a summer house for the family of Joseph Choate, one of America's first corporate lawyers. He was a highly successful defender of monopolies.

Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Mass., one of the stately homes featured in Dr. Mason's guidebook. It was built in 1884 at the height of the Gilded Age as a summer house for the family of Joseph Choate, one of America's first corporate lawyers. He was a highly successful defender of monopolies.

William (“Willit’’ ) Mason, M.D., has written has a delightful  – and very handy --  book rich with photos and colorful anecdotes,  called Guidebook to Historic Houses and Gardens in New England: 71 Sites from the Hudson Valley East (iUniverse, 240 pages. Paperback. $22.95). Oddly,  given the cultural and historical richness of New England and the Hudson Valley, no one else has done a book quite like this before.

 The blurb on the back of the book neatly summarizes his story.

“When Willit Mason retired in the summer of 2015, he and his wife decided to celebrate with a grand tour of the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley of New York.

While they intended to enjoy the area’s natural beauty, they also wanted to visit the numerous historic estates and gardens that lie along the Hudson River and the hills of the Berkshires.

But Mason could not find a guidebook highlighting the region’s houses and gardens, including their geographic context, strengths, and weaknesses. He had no way of knowing if one location offered a terrific horticultural experience with less historical value or vice versa.

Mason wrote this comprehensive guide of 71 historic New England houses and gardens to provide an overview of each site. Organized by region, it makes it easy to see as many historic houses and gardens in a limited time.

Filled with family histories, information on the architectural development of properties and overviews of gardens and their surroundings, this is a must-have guide for any New England traveler.’’

Dr. Mason noted of his tours: “Each visit has captured me in different ways, whether it be the scenic views, architecture of the houses, gardens and landscape architecture or collections of art. As we have learned from Downton Abbey, every house has its own personal story. And most of the original owners of the houses I visited in preparing the book have made significant contributions to American history.’’

To order a book, please go to www.willitmason.com

 

 

Four tough customers

"Butch, Natasha, Krissy and Tony, August 25, 1983'' (silver gelatin print), in the "Bell Pond Series' by Stephen DiRado, in his show "A Photographer's Embrace,'' at the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, through Dec. 15.  

"Butch, Natasha, Krissy and Tony, August 25, 1983'' (silver gelatin print), in the "Bell Pond Series' by Stephen DiRado, in his show "A Photographer's Embrace,'' at the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, through Dec. 15.

 

The gallery explains: "Stephen DiRado highlights the artist’s thirty-five-year artistic career as a photographer. Known for his humanistic outlook, DiRado’s work evolved from straight photography of people and places to intimate, empathetic images made in collaboration with his subjects. Using a large-format camera and a black and white silver-gelatin photographic process, his long-term documentary projects explore the structures and identities of communities, families, couples, groups and individuals.

"Works on display include several from DiRado’s series, such as 'Bell Pond,' a series documented during the summer of 1983 of a densely populated community of new and old immigrants residing on Belmont Hill in Worcester, Mass. Bell Pond is a public park and pond, a magnet for families, individuals and teen gangs. Other series included in the exhibition are "Mall Series,'' and DiRado’s 'Martha's Vineyard, Jump Series, ' which depicts people in the midst of their leap of faith from a bridge into the waters....''

So far from but so near to industry

The Main Quad at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.

The Main Quad at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.

"Life, {my mother} felt, should be everywhere as it was in Amherst, where poverty was an accident and great fortunes unknown. We lived so far from industry that we didn't know the industrial revolution had happened. Yet within a few miles of us were the manufacturing towns of Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield.''

-- From "A Footnote to Folly'' (1935), by Mary Heaton Vorse.

A behemoth company and democracy

"Amazon preparing for a battle,'' by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert, at the National Gallery of Art,  in Washington, D.C.

"Amazon preparing for a battle,'' by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert, at the National Gallery of Art,  in Washington, D.C.

Adapted from "Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24com:

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo promised in her well-intentioned pitch to Amazon to build its “second headquarters’’ in the state that  “You’d {Amazon} have the access, influence and impact that comes from being a dominant employer in our state.’’

This (along with a bizarre rendering showing Amazon buildings taking over much of the area around the State House) is a tad chilling. Does a tiny state want to take orders from some huge company?

Of course it would be very nice to get some Amazon jobs. With Boston a leading (and perhaps the leading) candidate to get the company’s second headquarters, perhaps Greater Providence could get some spillover employees from  the behemoth online retailer, especially in  such specialties as design, in which Rhode Island has particular strengths. But it’s dangerous for democracy and long-term, steady economic growth to be at the beck and call of one huge company. Better 50 small and medium size companies than one huge quasi-monopoly.  Big company means big hiring but also eventually big layoffs.

Some Amazon executives are reportedly pushing hard for Boston to be the second headquarters. To learn more, please hit this link:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/12/amazon-execs-want-second-hq-in-boston-says-report.html

 

Tim Faulkner: Solar-energy batteries and big storm outages

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Many trick-or-treaters ventured through southern New England neighborhoods afflicted by the latest widescale power outages, caused by the big storm of Oct. 29-30. Some houses were lit by generators, others arbitrarily spared from the blackout. To grown-ups at least, the Halloween displays were far less scary than the darkened homes with spoiling food and a lack of heat.

After a string of blackouts in recent years, it’s hard to blame homeowners for wanting backup power such as portable generators. The noisy, gas engines are more common since storms such as Sandy and Nemo have hit the region during the past five years. Some homeowners have even installed large, permanent standby units fueled by a direct hookup to a natural-gas line.

Property owners have reason to look for backup energy. Extended power outages are more common, in part because of higher winds and more powerful storms fueled by climate change.

Generator choices and prices vary widely. Portables start at $150. Quieter, cleaner and more powerful models can be as much as $5,000 or more. Permanent, standby units are priced upwards of $4,000 to as much as $25,000.

Adding backup battery storage to a solar array costs about $12,000, or about $8,400 after a federal tax credit.  That’s on top of the price of panels and equipment, which typically cost between $12,000 and $25,000 for the average home. Current rebates and incentives cut the expense by about 40 percent.

While the price may be high for the solar + storage, consumers are looking.

“There is huge interest for energy storage. We get calls all the time,” said Doug Sabetti, owner of Newport Solar, based in North Kingstown, R.I.

The first thing that residential customers want to know is whether they can go off the grid. Sabetti explained that cutting ties with the power grid is complicated and expensive. Several renewable incentives require a grid connection. So far, Sabetti has installed one solar + battery unit, but as incentives improve and hardware cost drop, the option of solar backup with grid connection will become more common.

Nationally, Tesla launched the solar + storage movement with the release of its Powerwall lithium battery storage pack in 2015. Sales have been slow and Tesla has shifted its focus to commercial customers, who use batteries to lower energy costs during peak demand. Tesla still offers solar + storage to residential customers through its SolarCity subsidiary. Other national installers such as Sunrun are expanding into the residential market using the Tesla Powerwall.

These systems are grid-connected, allowing for financial discounts and other benefits. In principal, the systems sell excess power back to the grid. And, of course, when the power goes out, the lights and refrigerator stay on.

However, not all states are prepared for permitting new solar + storage systems. Massachusetts and Rhode Island support the model and regulators are clarifying the rules.

One problem: solar regulations don’t state whether battery storage can be coupled with net metering, the process of taking and sending electricity to the grid at the regular retail price for power. Utilities such as National Grid don’t want customers charging their batteries off the grid when prices are low and selling the electricity back to the grid when prices are higher.

In September, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued a temporary ruling allowing net metering solar + storage systems while it further investigates the implications of those systems.

Sunrun and Tesla have a petition before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that limits the size of eligible solar + storage systems to 25 kilowatts or smaller and batteries can only be charged by the sun and not from the power grid. The docket is supported by the Office of Energy Resources and the Northeast Clean Energy Council. National Grid generally favors the concept but wants the rules clarified. The PUC may rule on the petition at its Nov. 27 meeting.

Another approach to ensuring that the power stays on is to create municipally owned electric utilities. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that public utilities have fewer power outages. National Grid, a for-profit company, was criticized for its response to the recent lengthy power outages in the region.

Rhode Island state Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D.-Providence) plans to introduce legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January that would allow more public, nonprofit utilities to operate in the state. Currently, the Pascoag Utility District is the only municipal electric utility in Rhode Island. Massachusetts has 41 municipally owned electric utilities. None have been created since the 1920s, and bills allowing new ones to form have stalled for years in the Legislature.

Proponents of public utilities say they invest in community projects, including renewable energy.

Tim Faulkner reports and writes for ecoRI News.

'Cutting off the sky'

The Sleeping Giant, in Hamden and Wallingford, Conn.

The Sleeping Giant, in Hamden and Wallingford, Conn.

"The whole day long, under the walking sun
That poised an eye on me from a high floor,
Holding my toy beside the clapboard house
I looked for him, the summer I was four.

I was afraid the waking arm would break
From the loose earth and rub against his eyes
A fist of trees, and the whole country tremble
In the exultant labor of his rise;

Then he with giant steps in the small streets
Would stagger, cutting off the sky, to seize
The roofs from house and home because we had
Covered his shape with dirt and planted trees....''

 

-- From "The Sleeping Giant: a hill in Connecticut,'' by Donald Hall

 

Ready for the next recession?

Wall Street during the Panic of October 1907.  

Wall Street during the Panic of October 1907.

 

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLoca24.com

Stock and other economic indices have been rising for years in the U.S. and in much of Europe and Asia, whether they have right- or left-wing governments. The economic expansion is getting very old. Eventually the markets will tank and we’ll have another recession. (My guess is that it will start next year, but it’s impossible to predict booms and busts with any precision. Too many variables.)

Maybe a world credit crunch will start the crash, or an unexpected string of lower corporate earnings, a Russian invasion of another European nation, a war with North Korea,  the popping of the Chinese property bubble, Chinese aggression aimed at controlling the trade routes through the South China Sea, a Chinese, Russian or North Korean assault on Western electrical grids. The list goes on. Then what?


Deutsche Bank analysts have warned:

"With Government debt levels spiking since the last recession, are politicians able to act as aggressively as they might need to {when the next recession comes}?"

"Could the next recession be the one where policy makers are the most impotent they’ve been for 45 years or will they simply go for even more extreme tactics and resort to full on monetization to pay for a fiscal splurge? It does feel that we’re at a crossroads and the next downturn could be marked by extreme events given the policy cul-de-sac we seem to be nearing the end of.’’

What makes prospects more exciting is that the U.S. may soon substantially expand its debt with big tax cuts.  That’s not to say there aren’t some very good things in the GOP tax plan announced last week, especially cutting back the mortgage-interest deduction. There are also some very bad things, such as getting rid of the estate tax. More to come, such as the fact that the tax bill would most benefit outfits like the Trump Organization.  Surprise!

In any event, Americans are undertaxed for the public services and infrastructure they say they want.  The United States of Wishful Thinking.

 

'Collaborative Collage'

From left, "After Kandinsky'' (textile, fiber, embroidery); "Sunday Drive'' (textile, fiber, embroidery), by the husband and wife team of Grey and Leslie Held, in their show "Evoking Stories: Explorations in Collaborative Collage,'' Dec. 8-Jan. 4 at  the New Art Center (NAC), Newton, Mass. The gallery says: "This exhibition features fabric collages made collaboratively by Grey Held, Collaborative Drawing instructor at NAC, and his wife Leslie Held, an "award-winning theatrical costume designer. Leslie’s collection of fabric scraps, ribbons, and salvaged sections of embroideries are the basic materials Grey and Leslie use to construct their various fabric collages, each with its own color palette and emotional temperature. The pair describe their work as something that emerges and evolves through the process of collaboration; they never know how a piece will turn out, but must surrender to the collaborative process that has its own trajectory, its own unfolding story.''

From left, "After Kandinsky'' (textile, fiber, embroidery); "Sunday Drive'' (textile, fiber, embroidery), by the husband and wife team of Grey and Leslie Held, in their show "Evoking Stories: Explorations in Collaborative Collage,'' Dec. 8-Jan. 4 at  the New Art Center (NAC), Newton, Mass.

The gallery says: "This exhibition features fabric collages made collaboratively by Grey Held, Collaborative Drawing instructor at NAC, and his wife Leslie Held, an "award-winning theatrical costume designer. Leslie’s collection of fabric scraps, ribbons, and salvaged sections of embroideries are the basic materials Grey and Leslie use to construct their various fabric collages, each with its own color palette and emotional temperature. The pair describe their work as something that emerges and evolves through the process of collaboration; they never know how a piece will turn out, but must surrender to the collaborative process that has its own trajectory, its own unfolding story.''

Frank Carini: Debating the future of 'the most important fish in the sea'

Atlantic menhaden.

Atlantic menhaden.

Via ecoRI.org (ecori.org)

Even though menhaden are a fish that few people eat, they are currently at the center of a heated dispute between the commercial fishing industry and environmental organizations. The two sides are pushing contradictory narratives about the importance of menhaden to the marine food web.

During its two-day meeting, Nov. 13-14 in Baltimore, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission(ASMFC) is expected to vote on Amendment 3 — a proposal to provide stronger protections for Atlantic menhaden.

Rhode Island’s three representatives on the commission are Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown, David Borden, representing Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Robert Ballou, assistant to the director at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who also serves as chairman of the Atlantic Menhaden Management Board.

Conservationists often refer to the species as “the most important fish in the sea” — after the title of a 2007 book by H. Bruce Franklin. They note that menhaden deserve special attention and protection because so many other species, such as bluefish, dolphins, eagles, humpback whales, osprey, sharks, striped bass and weakfish, depend on them for food.

In a recent press release, The Nature Conservancy called the species a “small fish with outsized importance for ocean health.” The conservancy also sent a letter to the ASMFC outlining the organization’s recommended management changes, such as adjusting coast-wide total allowable catch allocations to better reflect the current distribution and abundance of menhaden from Maine to Florida.

Menhaden are often referred to as ‘the most important fish in the sea.’

Save The Bay has also come out in favor of better protecting the menhaden population. The Providence-based organization favors a more ecosystem-based management approach.

“Atlantic menhaden play a central role in the ecological and economic vitality of the Atlantic coastal ecosystem as an essential food for whales and important commercial and game fishes and a host of other marine wildlife,” according to a Save The Bay press release. “Menhaden are also a key force in the regulation of regional water quality by filtering phytoplankton, which are the menhaden’s food source and a major cause of algae blooms and brown tides.”

The Nature Conservancy and Save The Bay, along with the Audubon Society and some scientists and fishermen, have urged the ASMFC to establish a new management approach that accounts for marine wildlife forage needs when menhaden harvest limits are annually set.

“Abundant menhaden is good for fish and wildlife ... and good for the economy,” John Torgan, The Nature Conservancy’s Rhode Island state director, said. “Rhode Islanders care about menhaden because they are critical to the health of Narragansett Bay and the larger coastal ecosystem, and have an enormous effect on other vital industries, like fishing and tourism.”

During the past five years, the menhaden population has rebounded, according to The Nature Conservancy, as indicated by ASMFC stock assessments and reports of large menhaden schools at numerous locations along the Atlantic Coast, including Narragansett Bay.

Prior to 2012, however, the Atlantic menhaden fishery was managed without a total annual harvest limit. Amid concerns about the health of the population, the ASMFC passed Amendment 2 that year, capping annual harvests at about 20 percent less than average landings from 2009-11.

The Nature Conservancy, concerned that the fate of continued menhaden recovery still remains uncertain, teamed up with Red Vault Productions to produce a video that captured the perspectives of five New York stakeholders on why abundant menhaden is good for New York’s ecology and economy.

While people rarely eat menhaden — an oily fish often called “pogies” or “bunkers” by New Englanders — more pounds of the fish are harvested each year than any other in the United States except Alaska pollock.

Last year, for example, the Atlantic menhaden harvest totaled some 400 million pounds, with about 76 percent used for livestock, pet and aquaculture feed, for various fish-oil products, and added to fertilizers. Much of the remaining supply was sold as bait in recreational and commercial fisheries.

“Rhode Island’s saltwater anglers, who spend millions of dollars pursuing their interest, believe this is the most important fisheries issue to come up for a vote in years,” said Rich Hittinger, vice president of the 7,500-member Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association. “It is clear that the vast majority of those with an interest in menhaden support ecological management of this fish.”

The commercial menhaden fishing industry, however, has a vastly different take. The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition claims widespread misconceptions about Atlantic menhaden, saying “the science shows a healthy and sustainable fishery” and noting that the ASMFC found in its 2017 stock assessment that Atlantic menhaden is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing.

“It is true that menhaden serve as ‘forage’ for larger predators, but their importance in marine food webs is frequently overstated,” according to a Menhaden Fisheries Coalition press kit.

The coalition points to a study published in April in Fisheries Research by Ray Hilborn that claims fishing for forage species such as menhaden likely has a lower impact on predators than previously thought.

There seems to be little correlation between the number of predator species in the water and the number of forage fish, making it nearly impossible to determine a catch level that is appropriate for forage fish as a whole, according to the study. Other variables include the natural variability of forage fish, which is different from species to species, and relative locations of predators and forage species.

The Menhaden Fisheries Coalition teamed up with industry-funded Saving Seafood to produce two videosand a 27-page booklet titled “Faces of the Menhaden Fishery" to support their stance.

Menhaden is the second-largest U.S. fishery, and two states, New Jersey and Virginia, control about 96 percent of the coast-wide quota.

Since last November, the ASMFC has received more than 126,000 public comments concerning Atlantic menhaden, the most the commission has ever received regarding the management of a fishery.

Frank Carini is editor of ecoRI News.